The parents of students enrolled at St. Bernard’s School in Manhattan have filed a lawsuit against the all boys private institution in an effort to get fthe former headmaster, Stuart Johnson III, back.
Johnson, who has been ahead of the grammar school since 1985, was removed by the school’s Board of Trustees “without cause or explanation.”
The lawsuit alleges that the executive committee forced Johnson to resign in May. If he didn’t, they threatened to terminate him, so he wouldn’t get a negotiated severance package.
When Johnson agreed to step down, the committee ordered him to announce his own departure, and then told other board members that the headmaster wanted to leave.
Some of the parents didn’t believe this.
“It quickly became clear that the ‘resignation’ was anything but voluntary, and, in fact, was a disguised form of constructive discharge,” the lawsuit states. “When the parents and faculty began to challenge the Board’s actions, the Board—rather than retract its rash and untenable position— engaged a costly crisis management firm to double down on its decision.”
The parents argue that the committee wanted Johnson gone because they wanted to get their hands on the school’s endowments, give their children preferential treatment in St. Bernard’s high school placement process and admit their kids’ friends who would normally not be able to get in.
The executive committee spent close to $1 million to hire attorneys and launch a public relations campaign to sway parents to their side.
“Even worse, the Board sought to penalize parents and students for raising alarm and resisting the Board’s misconduct,” according to the lawsuit. “(In one case) the board considered disinviting a student back to the school due to the advocacy of the student’s parent in matters relating to those at issue here.”
A spokesman for the Board of Trustees said the lawsuit was filed by two anonymous parents and that Johnson “made it clear to them through his counsel that he did not want them to file the lawsuit and wanted no part of their action.”
“We intend to defend this lawsuit in court and are confident we will prevail,” the spokesman said, adding that the board was “profoundly disappointed that at a time of national crisis a defamatory and meritless lawsuit has been filed.”