Star of the Sea School in the Richmond will not be enrolling any students in the 2019-2020 school year, for the first time in 110 years, and several parents say it's all the fault of parish pastor Father Joseph Illo.
The Archdiocese of San Francisco issued an official statement Wednesday saying that Star of the Sea Parish would suspend K-8 classes in the next school year and "the decision has been made to take the necessary time to develop an Integrated Classical Program, including curriculum development, marketing strategy, and effective business model."
But as the Richmond SF blog reports, the story may have less to do with the curriculum revamp and more to do with rapidly declining enrollment and multiple complaints about Fr. Illo's practices and behavior. Five years ago, the school had 240 students, and enrollment for the next school year was down to around 60.
A contentious March 7 meeting between parents at the school and school administrators, including Fr. Illo, devolved into what sounds like a shouting match. According to a complaint filed later with the Department of Catholic Schools, Fr. Illo was allegedly aggressive towards a parent who accused him of being responsible for the school’s declining enrollment. "Fr. Illo then sought to publicly humiliate the couple [who complained] by demanding that the husband order his wife to apologize to him for her previous comments," according to the complaint.
The complaint says that Illo has admitted he is "not an educator," and states further, "Fr. Illo lacks the proper temperament of a priest and school leader, cannot empathize with people’s frustration, cannot work collaboratively with others, and cannot facilitate a community meeting."
Furthermore, as Richmond SF reports, "In 2015, parents also learned of Illo’s involvement in a lawsuit at his former parish in Modesto, California where he was accused of inflicting emotional distress on an 11-year old student after he made her confront another pastor that the girl had claimed abused her." The suit was apparently settled.
According to parents at the school or those familiar with Illo who commented on the Richmond SF blog post, Father Illo's treatment of women and girls appears to be of concern to parents in the last few years.
Says one parent:
The Catholic Liberal Education model is not the reason most families chose to leave. It is the manner by which the pastor chose to roll it out and execute it that was the final straw for many dedicated families who wanted nothing more than for their children to stay at the school and be taught by the teachers they loved. Relegating girls to the kitchen to make sandwiches for the ladies of the parish while banishing them from the altar; taking every ounce of joy out of the annual Christmas concert by forbidding them to sing “secular carols” in the church... Forcing a long-standing progressive school community to defer to the values of the ultra-conservative parish in one year? It was set up to fail, and likely by design.
Father Illo issued a statement via the Archdiocese saying, "This has been a difficult and uncertain period for many school parents, some of whom have strongly expressed their concerns and reluctance to [suspending classes]. There has also been a good deal of positive interest in moving forward with this new model. I am looking forward to working with people who are eager to develop this kind of school in San Francisco."
Stay tuned, as more disgruntled parents likely look to bring press attention to the situation as they try to find new schools for their kids next year.