Catholic School Parents Continue to Protest Principal Change
About 15 parents stood in front of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School Friday, pleading with church officials to reinstate the school's outgoing principal.
Sharon Garon stood on the sidewalk in front of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School on Friday morning, raising a sign with her left hand that said "We Heart IHM" while clutching a cup of coffee with her right.
"This is the first time I've protested anything," the mother of a second-grader and a fourth-grader at the school said as rush hour traffic whizzed by on Briarcliff Road.
Garon was one of a group of parents who, for the last two months, have been protesting the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta's plans to replace the school's principal, Tricia DeWitt, by Easter. Parents claim DeWitt, who resigned last month, was forced from her job by the Rev. James Schillinger, head of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. Undisclosed tensions between the two, including the idenity of an anonymous donor who pledged $1 million to the school last year, reportedly led to DeWitt's resignation.
DeWitt is expected to remain in her post until June and has publicly asked parents in a letter not to protest her resignation because it distracts the school. But several parents protesting Friday said they have spoken to DeWitt and do not believe the letter reflects the principal's true feelings and that DeWitt, in fact, wants her job back. DeWitt has not responded to interview requests from North Druid Hills-Briarcliff Patch.
"What's being done is wrong, and I'm against it, and I protest it," said Sal DePasquale, another parent.
Disagreements over the school's leadership with Schillinger were likely brewing for some time before DeWitt's resignation, Garon said.
"[DeWitt] probably protected us from it for a long time," she said. "She did the right thing for a long time not exposing us to it."
The source of those tensions–with the exception of the donation–remain unclear, and rumors abound among parents at the school. Pat Chivers, an archdiocese spokeswoman, declined to speak in detail about the resignation, and Schillinger's office directed all questions to Chivers on Friday. Friday was also the deadline to apply for the principal position, and parents said they believe the church isn't allowing DeWitt to be reconsidered for the job.
Mike Watson, parent to a second-grader at the school, said DeWitt helped lead the school to be named one of 50 Blue Ribbon private schools nationwide by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009. He said he believes Schillinger seeks to exert more influence over the school.
"He stripped all her power from her to run the school on a day-to-day basis," he said.
Chivers said the church has three different documents, including the resignation letter, that DeWitt has signed, saying she wasn't forced from her position. Schillinger also didn't immediately accept her resignation, Chivers said. But if DeWitt wants her job back, she should be given it, Watson said – whether she willfully resigned or not.
"That's kind of splitting hairs, and it's disingenous," he said.
Roughly 15 parents on Briarcliff stood with signs, protesting for about an hour. Some cars honked in support as they drove past. Kelli Raviele, a parent to a first-grader and third-grader, said she simply wants DeWitt to remain in her post.
"The overwhelming reason the majority of parents chose the school is because of her," she said.