About Baltimore, bullying and St. Paul's School

Let me preface my remarks about the following Baltimore Sun story with a bit of personal history. I need to state up front that I have only lived in Anne Arundel County on the south side of Baltimore for a total of eight years and have only read the Sun on dead-tree pulp and online for a total of 12 years. Around these parts, that still makes me a bit of a newcomer.

Thus, I am sure that there are kazillions of obvious things that I do not know, but should know, about the old and very complex city of Baltimore and the many fascinating institutions in and around it.

End of confession. I wanted to say all of that because I am about to get very, very picky about a recent Sun story about a conflict in what is apparently a well known local private school.

You see, something is missing in this story and the lack of one crucial fact left me very confused, even after reading it top to bottom two or three times. The report starts out like this:

A Baltimore County mother is suing St. Paul's School for Boys and two administrators for $150,000, claiming that her son was bullied for years by other students and the school did nothing to protect him.

In a lawsuit claiming breach of contract and negligence, Nannette Krupa of Nottingham argues that the school in Brooklandville effectively expelled her son a half-year before he was due to graduate while not disciplining other students, including some attending the school on athletic scholarships, who she claims attacked her son.

In an interview ... Krupa said that her son was attacked three times physically, most severely in a bathroom when he was a freshman, and in between those incidents was a frequent target of abuse. His lunch was often stolen, his backpack was flipped inside out and he was called names, she said.

The suit was filed last month against the school, naming also Headmaster Thomas J. Reid and John Marinacci, the Upper School dean of students. The suit, which identifies Krupa's son only as "NZ," contends that the boy sought help several times from Marinacci, who "failed and/or refused to take any action to prevent the verbal harassment, physical threats and battery suffered by NZ" at the school.

As you would imagine, the school declined comment. So did the members of it's legal team.

At the moment, bullying is a hot topic in American education -- which makes this a hotter story than normal. And then there is the name of the school -- St. Paul's.

I don't know about you, but, as someone who is really interested in religion news and events, that name intrigued me. Thus, I read the story closely. Then I read it again. Then I ran a Google search for "Catholic, St. Paul's, school" only to find that that there is no Catholic school with that name that fits the details of this story.

Now, this lengthy news story goes on to offer many details about the alleged harassment of this young man, leading to him taking a stand that got him in trouble. Near the end there is this most strange summary:

Krupa said in the interview that her son, who is 18, was never officially told that he had been expelled from St. Paul's, but he was not allowed to attend this spring's commencement ceremony. She said his status was unclear from December through March, as she and her lawyers tried to negotiate an arrangement with the school that would allow him to graduate with his classmates.

"He wrote letters of apology, I appealed to them," Krupa said. "He doesn't understand why they would treat him this way," said Krupa, whose 6-year-old daughter will be starting her third year this fall at St. Paul's.

Krupa said she learned that he would not receive his St. Paul's diploma in a March conversation with an official at St. John's College in Annapolis. She said the college has accepted her son for admission in the fall.

And so forth and so on. So what is my picky question?

It seems that the Sun's editorial team believes that all of its readers are already familiar with St. Paul's and, thus, would not leap to the conclusion that this is one of the area's many, many Catholic schools. I think this is a rather important detail in an era when Catholic schools are being accused of all kinds of things. Bullying has become a rather symbolic issue.

Thus, I find it strange that, in this long daily story, the Sun team could not spare a single sentence to fill in a bit of the history of this institution. It took me a few clicks of a mouse to learn that:

Our School’s philosophical beliefs are rooted in our historic relationship with Old St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and its Anglican traditions. These roots help us define the institutional and educational practices that support our goal of helping each member of our community achieve individual excellence. ...

We believe it is our community's responsibility to stress morals and values in all areas of school life. We expect all members of the community to respect others, be responsible, treasure integrity, and to live with honor.

In other words, this is a private Episcopal school.

Does this mean that the school is wrong in this case? Of course not. Does this mean that I am saying the school is not a wonderful place and worthy of its acclaim (I assume it's rather famous, since the newspaper does not need to identify it)? Of course not. In fact, I am not saying anything about the school at all.

My point is journalistic. I simply think the story needed one line of type offering a bit of history that identifies this school, since journalists are not supposed to assume that readers know all of the background details on this kind of event. This is especially true if there is any chance for confusion.

Truth be told, I am rather sure that if a Catholic school was being accused of harboring and protecting bullies we would have been told that it was a Catholic school. That might even be a crucial element in the story, with calls to the archdiocese for comment, etc., etc. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I would be surprised if I was.

IMAGE: The entrance gate at St. Paul's School.

Please respect our Commenting Policy