An archbishop has ordered officials at a Black Catholic school in New Orleans to refrain from corporal punishment practices, despite the support of many students and families for the disciplinary measures.
Students at St. Augustine High School, a predominantly Black all-male catholic school, are paddled for tardiness, misbehavior and sloppy appearances—a policy that many students and families say keeps them out of trouble.
“It didn’t hurt him; he’s fine,” Carol Lewis told New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU of her son, a St. Augustine graduate. “He’s a grown man now; he’s doing well and no harm has ever come to him. He’s never been to prison, never been picked up by the cops, none of that kind of stuff. He did not suffer from a paddle once in his life.”
But at a town hall meeting Feb 24, Gregory Aymond, archbishop of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said he could not “possibly condone” corporal punishment, noting that St. Augustine was the only Catholic school in the nation to continue the practice.
“My image of Jesus is that he said, ‘Let the children come to me.’ I cannot imagine Jesus paddling anyone,” he reportedly said at the assembly.
In an interview with WDSU, he said he understood why the St. Augustine community favors the practice.
“St. Aug is different, it’s unique, the culture and so forth. And I think all those things need to be looked at but…it (paddling) weighs heavy on my heart,” he said.
According to a statement posted on the school’s Web site, St. Augustine alumni, current students, parents, school administration and other supporters of corporate punishment packed the town hall meeting and “clearly did not buy the ‘arguments’ proposed by the archdiocese.”
It went on to say many supporters were dismayed that persons outside the Black community were trying to dictate how the school should run.
“Many expressed outrage that African-American parents (have) to haggle with non-African-Americans about how to raise their own sons!,” the statement read.
The school’s principal told New Orleans archdiocese newspaper The Clarion Herald that misbehavior has increased since the school stopped the physical punishment five months ago.
“What has happened is that the infractions that would have stopped by now have continued to rise, causing the severity of the penalties to increase,” Don Boucree said.
The archbishop suggested officials engage in prayer and dialogue to discipline the students. He told media outlets he has received complaints about St. Augustine’s paddling and heard reports of injuries.
Daniel Daviller of the school’s board of directors said he expects the debate to continue, but says school officials stand firm in their beliefs.
“Discipline has always been a hallmark of the St. Augustine educational experience and it will continue to be a very high priority here regardless of what happens in the discussions going forward,” he said.