Parents Allege Bias, Abuse in Lawsuit
A parents' group has filed a $3.2-million suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles and others for alleged racial discrimination and physical and emotional abuse of Mexican-American students at a parochial school in Pico Rivera, Calif.
The group, called Parents for Christian Justice, is suing the archdiocese, St. Hilary's Elementary School, its principal, a teaching nun, and a lay teacher.
The parents charge that more than 50 of the school's nearly 400 students have left during the past two years because of harsh treatment and abusive disciplinary policies that they say were instituted by the principal, Sister Urban "Maureen Molitor.
The suit also says that one of the school's teaching nuns, Sister Lourdine Sok, knocked a pupil's head against a wall, struck the same student in the abdomen, and hit him on the finger with a stick.
A lay teacher, Luke Gonzalez, is also charged with abuse in the suit.
Other alleged abuses named in the suit include hair-pulling, lifting a student into the air by his cheeks, calling students "liars," "animals," "stupid," and "unteachable," locking students out of bathrooms as punishment, and taping a student's mouth shut for a day.
The suit states: "... plaintiffs are of Hispanic origin, and the actions of Sister Urban Maureen Molitor and Sister Lourdine Sok were motivated by racial bias."
The parents have demanded that the sisters be fired. Sister Molitor announced a week before the suit was filed that she has been reassigned by her religious order to a principalship at a Catholic school in southern Illinois.
Msgr. John A. Mihan, superintendent of elementary schools in the archdiocese, said the matter was first brought to school officials' attention last summer, when the group demanded Sister Molitor's resignation.
The archdiocesan education department investigated the case when the school year opened, he said, and found insufficient evidence to support the parents' charges. Subsequently, the parents filed grievances against the principal and teacher, but an archdiocesan committee of parents, principals, and teachers ruled against the parents.
Monsignor Mihan said that after the parents repeatedly attempted to ''disturb the orderly operations of the school" by entering classrooms to observe teachers and by posting themselves on the school grounds, negotiations were held for two months between a representative of the board of education and the parents, but without success.
"Sister Urban Maureen has far more supporters than critics among the parents and faculty," he said, calling her a "conscientious and competent principal."
Parents' Group Formed
The parents' group was formed in July of 1981, according to Gilbert Gutierrez, chairman of the group, to try to do something about complaints from parents concerning the school and some of its staff members. Mr. Gutierrez has three children in the school.
The alleged abuse began three years ago when Sister Molitor became principal, he said.
The parents first approached the pastor of St. Hilary's Catholic Church, Father John Killeen, and the head of the diocese, Timothy Cardinal Manning, without satisfactory results, said Mr. Gutierrez.
The group said that at one point it requested, and received, a letter from Father Clyde Grogran of the East St. Louis Belleville Diocese, where Sister Molitor was employed until June of 1978, saying Sister Molitor would have been dismissed there because of repeated "verbal and physical abuse of the children," if she had not already been transferred.
"I had hoped that Sister Molitor ... would have received some professional help and counseling," the letter stated.
Lawyers for the archdiocese are expected to file a response to the suit soon, said Monsignor Mihan.