By John Burton
RUMSON — A group of parents and students at Holy Cross School are still seeking answers about why a fourth-grade teacher was dismissed at the end of the school year this week.
While the Rev. Michael Manning, pastor of Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church and School, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Trenton and the teacher at the center of a controversy were not available for comment Friday, some students’ parents were quite willing to discuss the issue and voice their objections.
“This is so unbelievable that we can’t keep quiet,”
parent Siobhan Hogan said about Manning’s apparent decision not renew next year’s contract for fourth-grade teacher Bernadette Davis.
Hogan of Rumson, who has three children taught by Davis, joined other parents and students Thursday morning to hold a rally in front of Holy Cross Elementary School on Ward Lane.
According to Karen Thompson, a Middletown resident, parent and substitute teacher at Holy Cross, more than 100 participated in the demonstration.
“This is not a group of people who are confrontational,” Thompson said of those participating. “This is really a group of level-headed people who are good Christians who simply want to have a voice, simply want to have input with what goes on in their community.”
Thompson and Hogan charge Davis was in effect fired because she refused to tender an apology to a student and his parents for reprimanding the student last December.
The only response parents have gotten at this point, Thompson said, was Manning sending an e-mail stating “an administrative decision” had been made to not renew Davis’ contract and the school administration “will have no further comment on the matter.”
Davis, Hogan said, had been teaching at the Holy Cross for approximately seven years.
Hogan and Thompson said she has more than 40 years of teaching experience and retired from the New York Public School System before coming to work at Holy Cross.
“Mrs. Davis was in shock,” when the decision came down, Thompson said.
In the aftermath of his decision, the two women said Manning declared a pastoral holiday and canceled school on Thursday, which was to be the last day of school year.
Thompson said she and other parents are incensed by Manning’s actions. “This is not a dictatorship; this is suppose to be a Christian community and the word community is simply not in Father Manning’s vocabulary,” she said.
“People were really out of their minds about it,” Hogan said.
There was what Hogan called an “impromptu meeting” that got “contentious and heated,” with Manning on Wednesday after the morning Mass service. During that meeting, attended by about 20 parents, including Hogan, Hogan said Manning told the parents “Why won’t she apologize?”
“Why is an apology so important when the good of the school is at stake?” Hogan asked.