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Local leaders, students want St. Pete Catholic school dean removed over alleged racist comments

Posted at 6:16 PM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-01 23:21:43-05

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus are calling for the termination of the dean of students at St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

This comes after Black students speak out about racism they said they’re experiencing at the school. Some say, Ronald Rhoads, the dean of students, has used racially insensitive words when talking about Black students.

“Leadership at St. Petersburg Catholic High School did not promptly address these incidents,” said Esther Matthews, during a press conference outside of the school Tuesday afternoon.

Matthews is the current president of the St. Petersburg Chapter of the NAACP.

“When we hear that the dean of students calls [students] black hoodlums, and then retracts it by saying his words were a bad choice. When a student has to deal with racism and then be told by her peers that they guess they will apologize to the black side of her. When a student asks to go to the bathroom and one of her classmates calls out to the teacher and says, 'hey teach your slave is leaving.' And to have the words monkey carved into a teacher’s door,” she said. “When these things happen here, it says that we have students in an environment that has allowed a culture of racial hatred to fester unchecked.”

A parent also sent ABC Action News a picture of racial slurs carved into the bathroom stall. It's an incident that's leading to disappointment from former students. Florida Senator Darryl Rouson wrote a message about it, that was read by a legislative aide, Ella Coffee, at Tuesday's press conference.

"I am not proud of the vile or violent graffiti that was inscribed on a bathroom wall by an insensitive coward," Rouson said in his message.

Principal Ross Bubolz said he has been made aware of some of the incidents, including the bathroom stall graffiti. He spoke out against racism during the press conference, and also acknowledged his mistakes in dealing with the issue.

“We try to address issues when they come up,” he said. “We try to be forward-thinking on that, and whether I missed something or I wasn’t as attentive as I need to be. That is why we want to further this conversation and be more understanding and better listeners to our students.”

Matthews said she has had several conversations with Principal Bubolz, and the two are working together to finally address racism at the school and put an end to it.

The press conference was peaceful, but there was a tense moment when a woman showed up upset that this has been made public. She didn’t like that the media, NAACP, and local community leaders were involved.

“Why isn’t this being handled in the church,” she asked a member of the diocese. “You need to take care of this in the one and holy catholic church.”

We asked the same question to principal Bubolz and Matthews.

Matthews responded, “If it could be handled within the school we wouldn’t be here.”

Aside from wanting Dean Rhoads removed, students and local leaders are demanding more education and stricter punishment.

Principal Bubolz also released a video statement on the graffiti incident Tuesday. In it, he promised accountability and a continued investigation into the graffiti incident. He did not address the request to have Rhoads removed.

"Our hearts and prayers go out to students who have become distraught because of the actions of others. This is not acceptable," he said.