Guest Blog: St. Aug board struggle is settled; paddling is banned

St. Aug board struggle is settled; paddling is banned
By Bruce Nolan
The Times-Picayune, December 23, 2011

Local directors of St. Augustine High School and its Josephite founders said Friday they have settled their legal struggle over control of the school with a new leadership structure — and agreement that the days of corporal punishment are over. “There will be no attempt to reinstate corporal punishment,” said Dan Davillier, a board member who helped fashion the out-of-court settlement with the Josephites, who founded the school 60 years ago.

“It hasn’t been at the school for the last year and a half. We want St. Aug to maintain its track record for strict discipline. I’m confident that we can maintain that high level without paddling,” Davillier said.

In addition, the board of directors next month will begin a search for a new school president to replace the Rev. John Raphael, a casualty of the paddling dispute.

Whether to paddle or not — and who would decide the question — became the issue that roiled the school for most of 2011.

The Josephites, with the emphatic support of Archbishop Gregory Aymond, wanted it stopped.

The Josephites ordered an end to it in the fall of 2010.

A broad coalition of parents, alumni and local board members, led by Raphael, wanted it continued, with new controls.

They asserted that the paddling was a key ingredient in St. Aug’s character-building tool kit, one that sent black men from modest backgrounds on to top-flight universities and positions in business and the professions.

The issue quickly morphed well beyond paddling.

For Aymond and the Josephites, the issue touched on St. Aug’s identity as a place of Catholic values.

For the supporters of paddling, at stake was St. Aug’s degree of respect and self-governance, and whether the Josephites sufficiently honored the child-rearing rights of African-American families.

Weeks of public rallies and petitions culminated in late June when the local directors unilaterally attempted a legal takeover of the board of trustees, the school’s ownership entity.

The Josephites responded with the blocking lawsuit that ended with Friday’s new leadership structure.

The essentials remain in place: St. Augustine remains a Catholic high school owned by the Josephites.

But now, neither the board of directors nor the trustees can amend the school’s bylaws or articles of incorporation without the assent of two-thirds of both bodies, said Davillier and the Rev. Tom Frank, the Josephites’ consultor general, or No. 3 man in the order.

In the struggle over corporal punishment, the Josephite trustees unilaterally banned it; and the board of directors retaliated by unilaterally attempting to expand the trustees.

Now they are more tightly wed.

“This insures much better communication and spirit of cooperation” between the two bodies, Davillier said.

The settlement also calls for the 12-person board of directors, which includes three Josephites, to be enlarged with parents, alumni or friends of St. Aug to head new committees on academics, fundraising or other topics.

Frank said the Josephites will also appoint a chief religious officer to oversee religious instruction and the spiritual life of the school.

St. Augustine is currently running without a president, Raphael having been called back to Josephite headquarters in Baltimore during the dispute.

Finding a replacement will be a top priority when the board meets in January, Davillier said.

He said the board of directors will conduct a search and recommend a replacement and present him or her to the trustees for approval.

Bruce Nolan can be reached at or 504.826.3344.