St. Augustine resolves paddling, governance issues

Following months of internal division that played itself out publicly and eventually in the courts, St. Augustine High School’s local board of directors and the Josephite Fathers who run the school have resolved all issues regarding both corporal punishment and school governance, the school has announced.

The agreement, which was mediated at the request of federal magistrate Jay Zainey by Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University of Louisiana, sets up a new leadership structure at the school and also settles the use of corporal punishment, which the Josephites’ Board of Trustees in Baltimore had prohibited since August 2010.

“Part of the settlement is the awareness that corporal punishment will not return to St. Augustine as a method of student discipline,” said Josephite Father Thomas Frank, the Josephites’ consultor general who worked with Francis and with Wayne Lee of the school’s local board of directors to resolve the outstanding issues. “But student discipline is still an essential element of the education at St. Augustine.”

Father Frank and Lee worked with Francis over the last several months to develop a new set of bylaws. Father Frank said one of the best attributes of the new bylaws is that they “create a structure for good communication between the board of directors and the board of trustees.”

More collaboration planned

Father Frank said the new bylaws allow “greater collaboration between the two boards, and furthermore, they foster greater participation with the formal establishment of several standing committees that were not in existence before. That relates to development and public relations, academics and academic promotion, as well as maintaining and improving the facilities.”

The bylaws also allow the opportunity for a non-Josephite to serve as president of St. Augustine. The board of directors will be charged with conducting a search for a new president, and its recommendation would be approved by the board of trustees.

“The previous bylaws said the Josephites appointed the president,” Father Frank said.

The board of directors tentatively has scheduled a meeting for later this month to discuss the presidential search. Josephite Father John Raphael, the former St. Augustine president, has reported to his new assignment in Baltimore.

Abp. Aymond thankful

Archbishop Gregory Aymond said he was thrilled that the school had resolved the dispute.

“I’m grateful to God for the wisdom that he has given to Dr. Francis as the mediator and to the members of the Josephite community and the school’s board of directors that made it possible for them to come to a positive resolution,” Archbishop Aymond said. “I have always had a great respect for St. Aug’s 60-year history and for the leadership of the Josephites, as well as the other lay people who collaborate with them. I look forward to meeting with members of the St. Aug community in order to plan a worship service that will give us an opportunity to be reconciled in spirit and in truth.”

The new bylaws allow the expansion of the 12-member board of directors to an upper limit of 20.

“Plus, we anticipate having interested people who are not board members serve on board committees,” Father Frank said.

There are three Josephite priests currently serving on the school’s board of directors: the Josephites’ area director (Father Charles Andrus), the Josephites’ treasurer (Father Nelson Moreira) and the Josephites’ director of education (Father Frank).

St. Aug’s importance

Father Frank said he hoped the resolution would “foster a firm foundation for not only students but particularly for alumni to support the institution.”

“We need St. Augustine to be a jewel, if you will, in the crown of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of New Orleans,” he said. “Certainly, in an age when there is need for support of young African-American males in our nation today, St. Augustine provides an opportunity for young African-Americans to grow as men and to grow educationally. We need to continue to foster those efforts for their sake, for the sake of the city, and, in a real sense, for the sake of the nation.”

“The reality is that there are challenges ahead for the school, and it’s important that both the board of trustees and the school’s administration, parents and students get on board to meet those challenges and foster the many good things that are going on.”

Father Frank said the protracted public dispute was a difficult episode for the school.

“Many of the parties involved became very aware of the mistakes that have been made,” Father Frank said. “Everyone involved made some mistakes in this process. We want to foster a unified effort to go forward and to work out our differences and not foster our divisions. The ultimate message is that we are going to be focusing on unity and building up the school.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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