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 . Parents claim DeWitt, who resigned last month, was forced from her job by the Rev. James Schillinger, head of the . 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.

Listen March 31, 2011 at 08:05 PM
Who is this Tim Buckley that apperently has a great deal of influence with Father on school hirings and other school matters?
IHM Parent April 01, 2011 at 01:34 AM
Tim Buckley is a member of various councils and committes at the parish and school. Given that he is not a public figure and is not employed by the Archdiocese, I do not think that it is appropriate to discuss him in this forum. This does not mean he is or is not involved, but we really should not be discussing his role here.
Tim Buckley April 01, 2011 at 04:26 PM
I am Tim Buckley. To shed some light on this, I will quote the Zen philospher Ron Burgundy: "I don't know how to put this but I'm kind of a big deal. People know me. I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany. " -- Anchorman. The only school hiring in which I have participated in my years as a parishioner and parent is as a member of the search committee that met before Mrs. Dewitt was rehired. I also gave a letter of recommendation for Mrs. Etheridge when she applied to IHM. Otherwise, none. I hope everyone has a great spring break!
IHM Parent April 01, 2011 at 06:33 PM
Here is a petition that you my want to review and sign! http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Maintain-Blue-Ribbon-Excellence-at-IHM/
IHMPARENT3 April 02, 2011 at 03:13 AM
IHMPARENT3 April 02, 2011 at 03:34 AM
IHMPARENT3 April 02, 2011 at 03:37 AM
Tim: if you were part of the committe that helped bring Ms Dewitt back why did you stop supporting her? What are your reasons for not supporting her to stay at IHM?
Sal DePasquale April 02, 2011 at 10:56 AM
Thank goodness we have the PATCH where people have an opportunity to express themselves. The frustration, anger, fear and disillusionment are more than evident in the many postings to this article and to the other article. A religious faith based upon a man who courageously stood up against arrogant church elders and for justice is the foundation for followers who fervently believe in justice and who are offened by an abuse of power. Appeals to the Archdiocese for addressing the injustice have been met with a condescending attitude and in many instances silence. And so we are left with protest through demonstrations, petitions, pray vigils and the like. Most people are uncomfortable with these actions and many simply do not have the time. The tragedy is that a Pastor would be the impetus for such turmoil in a Parish that was so cohesive. The problem, in my view, is not Mr. Buckley or the many parishioners who refrain from action; the problem is the leadership of a faith based on justice, that simply has failed to respond. Sal DePasquale
Sal DePasquale April 02, 2011 at 11:14 AM
It has been said that the Archiocese Policy Manual stipulates that the Pastor is the employer and, in all matters, is the ultimate decision maker. But the Policy Manual also stipulates a specific role for the Pastor and it stipulates specific duties for the Principal in administration of the school. It would seem to me that if the notation of the Pastor as the ultimate decision maker means that the Pastor can totally disregard the rest of the Policy Manual, then it really isn't a Policy Manual, it is a guideline. If that is the case and if the Archdiocese Policy is little more than a suggestion, then it should be labelled Archdiocese Guidebook, not a Policy Manual. If it is to be accepted as a policy manual, within the parameters of Administration, the Pastor is the employer and is responsible for signing contracts. The Principal is responsible for school administration which includes, but not limited to, staff selection and supervision, training, curriculum, financial mangement, and other such tasks normally aligned under the umbrella of administration. Pastor interference violates the Archdiocese Policy, if the Archdiocese Policy is, indeed, a policy and not merely a suggestion, in my view. In protesting in support of Mrs. DeWitt it has been said many times that the Catholic Church is not a democracy. I'm not looking for a referendum, I'm looking for the Archdiocese to enforce its own rules, if in fact, they are more than mere suggestions. Sal DePasquale
Crash April 02, 2011 at 12:36 PM
The Archbishop isn't going to say anything because he wants the million dollars. Follow the money. If the million dollars was being withheld then you'd hear from him.
Sal DePasquale April 02, 2011 at 01:45 PM
It seems to me the key is school governance. If the Pastor can bypass the Policy Manual at his whim, then the Manual is hollow. This is very imporant for parents with children in the school, because it could place in jeopardy the school's accreditation. I would also suspect that if the acceditation agency recognizes that what they thought was a governing document, is not governing and is subject to the Pastor's whim, it would place in jeopardy every Catholic school in the Archdiocese. I know governance is an issue reviewed the the accreditors and that governance was an issue in Clayton County, but I do not know if it is a show stopper. In any event, a school that operates at the Pastor's whim is not much of a school. I'd like to hear from some of the attorneys at the Parish. I understand teachers have been told their jobs will be in jeopardy if they participate in any demonstrations. I can understand that restriction when they are on the job, but when they are off the job can the Archdiocese take away their First Amendment rights? I understand the church is excused from certain aspects of Civil Rights, but can it use the freedom of religion arguement to circumvent the freedom of speech? Can it use the first amendment to argue against the first amendment? That would be interesting. Sal DePasquale
ParentforIHM April 02, 2011 at 02:40 PM
Dear ATLResident, The BP Oil spill was embarrassing too. No one wanted it. It's wasn't good for business. However they owned it and it is the PEOPLE that made them own it. Notice that the CEO was removed and a thorough investigation is still underway. BP acknowledges that the 'healing' will require a huge PR effort to repair the damage but at least they appear committed to it. They aren't telling everyone to 'get over it'. They will be held accountable to correct any wrong doings so that the tragedy doesn't happen again.
ParentforIHM April 03, 2011 at 01:59 AM
We're not alone with this issue. http://www.projectnola.com/the-news/news/42-fox-8/133002-controversy-heats-up-at-algiers-catholic-school
IHM Parent April 03, 2011 at 02:06 AM
Thank you for sharing!!!!
ParentforIHM April 03, 2011 at 03:06 AM
The New Orlean's principal resignation/firing got a lot more press. Here is another link that is from 3/25. http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2011/03/angst_still_surges_at_st_andre.html You can also google the school name and see more press articles to understand their situation.
Blue Ribbon Parent April 03, 2011 at 12:13 PM
In the immortal words of former NY Yankees Hall of Famer, Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again." It sounds like the majority of the minimal comments made by the Archdiocese of New Orleans came from the exact same script used by the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Just as in IHM's case, the amount of information protected by human resources or employee/employer confidentiality is minimal; particularly so when the empolyee involved is willing to make the information available publicly. It is disgraceful that ours or any Archdiocese would act in such a manner. This is symptomatic of the reason many have left the Catholic church.
Anna SAS Parent Chiasson April 04, 2011 at 01:30 PM
Saint Andrew the Apostle facing similar situation in New Orleans.
Sal DePasquale April 05, 2011 at 09:01 AM
The school governance issue is very important. It was key in Clayton County Schools losing accreditation and it was key in the troubles for Atlanta Public Schools and Dekalb County Schools. Sal DePasquale
Sal DePasquale April 06, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Archbishop Gregory participated in the memorial services for Martin Luther King this week. he should reflect upon King's view of justice. I read Dr. Starkovitch's letter about Canon Law again.If Canon Law applies, should not Sharia Law apply? Sal
IHM Parent April 10, 2011 at 12:22 AM
As a parent, please make sure you "cooperate closely with the teachers of the schools [sic]". I think that you may be interested in the Canon Law pertaining to schools (796.2 may interest you). Check it out!!! http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P2N.HTM
Sal DePasquale April 10, 2011 at 08:52 PM
Thank you for your advice. People do resign, but sometimes they resign to draw attention to a problem. It seems evident the problem is with the Pastor interfering with the Principal's ability to perform her duties as specified in the Archdiocese Policy Manual. That same Policy Manual is used by the acceditation agency in its evaluation of school governance. I may be incorrect, but as I read it, the Pastor's role is rather clearly defined. If he is violating a policy of school governance, the higher authority--the Archdiocese--should teach him how to play nice in the sandbox and, perhaps, to not act like a bully. If the Archdiocese takes the position that it is not their problem and the Pastor can override the Policy Manual, then the Policy Manual is more of a guideline. This should be important to SAIC, because they may have incorrectly viewed the Policy Manual as an actual Policy Manual. To be sure, if this element of school governance is meaningless and subject to the Pastor's whim, it would seem plausible that it would impact every school accredited in the Archdiocese. Just as SACS removed accreditation from Clayton County and placed Dekalb County and Atlanta Public Schools on probation, due in part to issues of governance, SAIC should apply the same precedent as it deals with Archdiocese schools. I suspect you would agree that would be the fair and honorable thing to do. As for hating Father Schillinger, not even close. Sal DePasquale
Concernedparent April 10, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Sue, I strongly disagree with you; on the contrary, Mr. DePasquale's efforts are to be commended. There is nothing wrong with standing up for what you believe in. And if you truly believe that is the teachers teaching your children that make the school what it is, then you'd better open your eyes, Sue, because many of those same teachers will not be there given the present work environment. Have you even bothered to speak with them, Sue? I certainly have, and it is for that very reason I continue to fight. Under Father Schillinger's "leadership", our teachers and administration fear for their jobs and their future at IHM. . You are very right that people do resign all the time, but let's hope that there is not a surge of "resignations" yet to come in the days ahead. I am not the least bit ready to "let it go" either...I am NOT going away because I truly care for IHM and its staff and the children entrusted to their care. Frankly, I do not believe Fr. Schillinger has their best interest at heart, which is especially sad given his role as a priest and a church leader. Sue, I would encourage you to look a little deeper into the situation IHM finds itself in and why exactly that is. It's hard to "let it go" once you know the truth...
IHM Parent April 11, 2011 at 11:34 AM
Sue, You had mentioned that teachers, not the administration, make a school. Please check out this story to see what the teachers at IHM have to say about our school: http://northdruidhills.patch.com/articles/survey-many-immaculate-heart-of-mary-staff-members-back-outgoing-principal After seeing this, I hope that you reconsider your view of the situation.
AtlResident April 11, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Sue, Very well put, I agree with you. I too am embarrassed for the few parents resistant to change who cannot let this go. I am looking forward to a change at IHM and them moving on to a bigger and better future.
Concernedparent April 11, 2011 at 05:36 PM
AtlResident, be careful for what you ask for. You most certainly will get change, but it will most likely not be a bigger and better future. I challenge you to look deeper into this situation and what has brought our school to this point. There are on-going governance issues here, and they have yet to be addressed. Are you willing to accept a new principal who will be a puppet, or are you willing to accept a situation that sets itself up for revolving door principals? I am not. I am not resistant to change if it is for the good. I fail to see that in our current situation. I am sorry that you are embarrassed by this situation, but I remind you that we did not create this situation - Fr. Schillinger has. We are only trying to clean up his mess and prevent an even greater tragedy from occurring with the loss of our teachers and the leadership that has brought our school to National Blue Ribbon status.
ParentforIHM April 11, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Sometimes change can be a good thing and other times it just disrupts a perfectly working system. What we are so angry about with this change is that it didn't have to happen because nothing was broken with our school. Unfortunately, through this 'change' we have learned that things are broken and now the one person that was holding it together is no longer going to be there. As parents we can ensure that the future 'change' is under controllsince we clearly can't change the past.
IHM Parent April 12, 2011 at 02:25 AM
Mr. Kaiser, I don't know anything about you except for the two posts that you have made here on the Patch, but I want to tell you that I respect you so much for letting your voice be heard. As a current concerned parent of an IHM student, I just want to say Thank You! I will also make sure that Mrs. DeWitt sees the comment that you left as I know that it will offer her a great deal of comfort.
Blue Ribbon Parent April 12, 2011 at 02:47 AM
Sue, Fr. Schillinger has violated SAIS/SACS Standards & Indicators (the dual accreditation agencies) related to governance of the school, as well as Archdiocesan governance policies, that put the accreditation of the school at risk. That will come out in the Accreditation Committee Report, one way or another. If you had taken the time to ask questions and meet with Mrs. DeWitt, you would know this already. Ask any experienced teacher and they will tell you that the principal dictates the direction of the school. Meet with and ask any IHM teacher (including Fr. Schillinger supporters) and they will tell you that IHM would not be the Blue Ribbon School of Excellence that it is without the leadership of Tricia DeWitt.
Lucy Mauterer April 15, 2011 at 05:05 PM
You have a wonderful school at IHM, but if the Archdiocese is unwilling to step in and at least listen to parents and investigate the situation, you have a problem. If most parents are happy with Mrs. DeWitt, and are currently supporting the school and the Diocese with their monies, then the leadership would be wise to take note. When one person is allowed to bully those he is contracted to serve (I'm referring to Fr. Schillinger) eventually the children will suffer. The atmosphere in the school will change, make no mistake about this. When people feel disempowered, there is a response. Keep digging to find out the truth of the matter. My guess is that there are motives and agendas that are still hidden and that have nothing to do with a love of children or their well-being. And hey, if all else fails, take your faith (and money) elsewhere.
Sal DePasquale April 15, 2011 at 05:21 PM
It appears Sue was correct. I spoke with the accreditation office and they are disinterested. I was told that if I didn't like what was going at IHM, I should vote with my feet and go somewhere else. So much for accreditation. Sal


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