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.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://superfastreader.com Annie

    At the very least, the piece should have mentioned its affiliation with Old St. Paul’s, which is a famous & historic church/landmark. We had baccalaureate there, they probably still do.

    When I was at SPSG, it was a religious place–we were required to take religious studies courses and we sang hymns every single morning. We had a school prayer: “Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labor and not to ask for any rewards, save that of knowing that we do thy will through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.” This was at the girls’ school, of course.

    Private school culture in Baltimore County is pretty intense. Anywhere else you go, if you meet someone from Baltimore who is within 10 years of your age you ask where they went to school. And you pretty much know who they are based on their answer.

  • Jerry

    Underlining your valid point is that the media needs to know that in the internet age, not everyone reading a story is local.

  • JWB

    Do you have a problem with the story’s failure to describe the ecclesiastical-affiliation-if-any of the particular St. John’s College referenced in the story? If not, why not? Are there really newspaper readers out there who assume that anything named St. Something’s should be presumed to be a Roman Catholic institution unless they are told to the contrary, regardless of the saint referenced? That seems especially questionable here, as Paul is about as Protestant as saints get for naming purposes in the modern U.S.: the percentage of Episcopalian and Lutheran institutions named for St. Paul is probably much higher than the comparable percentage for RC institutions. Even Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Congregationalists name things after St. Paul.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Do you have a problem with the story’s failure to describe the ecclesiastical-affiliation-if-any of the particular St. John’s College referenced in the story?

    No, because there isn’t one. (The college’s own Web site says the eponymn is “probably” the Evangelist, but is not certain.

  • JWB

    But how do the situations differ in terms of what it’s fair to expect readers to know about the school in question without doing their own research? If the paper had an affirmative obligation to inform the reader that the St. Paul’s School being discussed was NOT a Roman Catholic institution, why not the same obligation for the St. John’s College being discussed? There are various institutions of higher education elsewhere in the country named St. John’s which do have Roman Catholic affiliations, so there could presumably be some chance for confusion if you didn’t already happen to know something about the one in Annapolis.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Not the same. It would have been simple enough to mention “St. Paul’s, the well-known Episcopalian* school” without giving a list of all the things it is NOT.

    (*and not “Episcopal”.)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Actual, “Episcopal” is the adjective and “Episcopalian” is the noun.

    So it is an Episcopal school.

    Or a school founded by Episcopalians.

    This is a very common error in newspapers.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    The SUBJECT OF THE STORY is St. Paul’s….

    St. John’s is merely an internationally known and historic college rooted in the Great Books.

    BUT IF THE STORY was about St. John’s, I would have said precisely the same thing — anyway.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    “Episcopal” means “of or pertaining to a bishop”.

    I cringe whenever a story calls someone “an Episcopal bishop”. As opposed to what, a diaconal bishop?

  • JWB

    Tmatt: that’s certainly a fair distinction, although I personally didn’t see enough of a “ghost” in the story to make the religious connections of the school so relevant as for the omission to be a problem, just as I would not have expected a sports story in my hometown paper describing a game between St. Andrew’s and St. Mark’s to note that the former is an Episcopal* school and the latter a Roman Catholic school.

    *I checked, and that’s what St. Andrew’s calls itself on its website; Will may want to cringe his way over to the National Association of Episcopal Schools and tell them they’re setting a bad example.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I agree– I am certain if there were a newsworthy embarrassing controversy or scandal at a Catholic school, it would have been identified as “Catholic”–and should be identified as such. One can only guess as to why the newspaper didn’t want to mention its Episcopal identity, especially since so many people would assume it is Catholic.
    I also agree that many churches other than Catholic are named after saints. Until recently we had a St. Paul’s Methodist Church (now defunct) in our city. We also have a thriving St. George Greek Orthodox Church and over the years Many, many times I have run into situations where people thought these churches were Catholic if they were only identified by their name saint.
    And Jerry makes a very good point journalists should keep in mind:: that because of the internet their product is not as locally confined as in years past.

  • Julia

    Lots of St Pauls, St Johns, St. Georges, St Lukes, St Marks, St Matthews that are not Catholic. We have three of them (Paul, George & Matthew) in my 50,000 population town. And only one of them is Episcopal.

    When I see those names when looking for a church in a city I’m visiting, I always check to see if it’s Catholic or not.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    “St. Paul’s” immediately sent my mind to it’s being Episcopal/Episcopalian (whatever), probably because of the well-known St. Paul’s in Massachusetts, but also, it’s fairly clearly a private school, whereas Catholic schools are usually parochial. Around here at least, private Catholic schools are generally named after the founding order – Cisterican, Jesuit, Ursuline, etc.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Actually, I assumed that the school was Episcopal, at least until I started seeing names like Krupa and Marinacci. There are several clues: first, Catholic schools tend to shy away from not-obviously-Catholic saints names; and second, Catholic high schools tend to be named “St. Whosit High School”. Also, I suspect that most of them would be identified in the Sun as parochial rather than private. The only Baltimore area Catholic school I found that had an ambiguous name is Trinity School; there is a second Trinity School near Frederick which is Lutheran/Episcopal. There are a few more around DC with the only absolutely misleading one being the Woods Academy in Bethesda (there are two “preps” in the suburbs but that’s a name that’s only used by the Catholics).

    It is a bit odd that they would omit the affiliation.

  • Julia

    In the St Louis area there are many Catholic high schools without saint names. Most Jesuit schools do not have saints’ names. The Catholic girls’ high schools of my youth were both called “academy”. It’s parish grade schools and the few high schools that are sponsored by parishes that tend to have saints names.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Also, I believe that a Catholic school only warrants the descriptive word “parochial” if it is run by a parish (although its teachers may be from a religious order).

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Deacon John, judging from the lists on the Archdiocese of St. Louis website the distinction is between schools run directly by the church (listed there as “archdiocesan”) and independent private schools with a church affiliation. High schools in the former group would generally be considered part of the Catholic parochial system even though they might not be run out of a particular parish. Episcopal high schools are almost all independent. “Parochial” in these (Md.) parts would immediately be understood to imply “Catholic” even though there are Episcopal parish schools at lower grade levels.

  • John Wickey

    The point of your critique seems to be that reporters have biases that shape their stories. When it comes to stories with religious content, as in this instance, their sometimes secular non-traditional moral-religious perspective gets in the way of comprehensively informative accuracy. How true.

  • Julia

    C. Wingate:

    The St Archdiocesan page for high schools says this:

    Catholic high schools within the Archdiocese of St. Louis are organized and operated as archdiocesan, parish or private high schools.

    Then comes the list of high schools with each identified as archdiocesan, private or parish. True, I only counted two run by a parish, but there are some. I’ve always heard them described as parochial, not as run by the archdiocese. And I’ve never heard the archdiocesan high schools described as parochial. The elementary schools are almost entirely parochial – associated with a parish(es). I only saw one that could be considered private – Priory – but even Priory has a parish that uses its facilities.