Catholic school gives student the boot over court-ordered ankle monitor

Posted: January 23, 2014

CHAD, A JUNIOR at West Catholic Preparatory High School, is in a predicament similar to that of Monsignor William Lynn, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia official released from prison last month.

Chad was ordered by a Juvenile Court judge to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet as part of his sentence for a December arrest. Lynn, whose child-endangerment conviction was overturned on appeal last month, also was ordered to wear an ankle bracelet as a term of his release from prison.

But the Archdiocese's responses to both court orders have been as different as night and day.

Lynn, 63, was literally taken in by the church, which paid his bail and is allowing him to live at St. William Parish in the Northeast while the District Attorney's Office appeals to get his conviction reinstated.

Meanwhile, Chad, 16, was kicked out of West Catholic on Jan. 13 and told not to return until the ankle monitor is removed, according to him, his parents, Fred and Tiffani Baker, and his attorney.

The attorney, Jonathan R. Altschuler, wonders whether the church is guilty of hypocrisy.

"It seems that they want to punish him without having any basis to do so," Altschuler said during an interview at the family's Olney home.

"One of the highest-ranking members of the Archdiocese has an ankle bracelet on. . . . So, to leap to a conclusion that [Chad] can't be in school with an ankle bracelet doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me," said Altschuler, who asked whether the church had forgotten its principles of redemption and forgiveness.

No school or church officials have returned his phone calls, he said.

Family Court Judge A. Frank Reynolds, who adjudicated Chad as delinquent and ordered him to serve probation and to wear the ankle monitor, is the only one who can order that the device be removed.

So Chad - whose parents asked that his real name not be used - sits at home with the family dog and cat, in education limbo.

Athletic and ambitious

He misses West Catholic, where he is a member of the varsity football and track teams. "Everybody wants to learn there, everybody is doing what they're supposed to do. That's why I like that school," said Chad, who hopes to play college football and eventually become a financial planner or pharmacist.

His December arrest did not involve drugs or a crime against another person or property. He and his parents thought the matter was sealed after Judge Reynolds handed down his order.

So, when the device accidentally went off at school Jan. 13 and West Catholic principal Sister Mary Bur asked why he was wearing it, Chad and his parents declined to tell her. They don't want the incident to hurt his college prospects, the parents said.

" 'It's a situation that happened with my son. It's a family matter and it's being addressed,' " Fred Baker, 41, a city firefighter who is out on disability, said he told Bur. "Whatever happened, it didn't happen on school grounds, no student or faculty are in danger, it's something that we are taking care of as a family, and that's how I left it."

Tiffani Baker, 46, a college payroll administrator, said it's as if the school is punishing Chad for complying with the judge's order.

"I need him to be in school, and West Catholic Preparatory School is the school where I want him to be. The fact that they won't let him because of this bracelet, I have a problem with that," she said.

Bur declined to comment and referred questions to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Kenneth Gavin, an Archdiocese spokesman, also declined to discuss specifics of Chad's case, but said in a prepared statement:

"In terms of policy, an Archdiocesan school reserves the right to prohibit a student from attending classes in a school building if their presence may pose a risk to the safety or security of themselves or other students in the school's care.

"If a student is barred from a building, other arrangements to continue with schoolwork may be made at the discretion of school administrators. The safety and security of all students, faculty and staff is the Office of Catholic Education's first priority."

By contrast, the Philadelphia School District does not bar a student from reporting to school with a court-ordered ankle monitor.

When asked whether the district or an individual principal could do so, district spokesman Fernando Gallard said: "Absolutely not. The student has the right to attend the school with the device. We've never had that problem."

Gallard said that no statistics were available for the number of students wearing monitors, but that the court notifies the school district of each student who is adjudicated and ordered to wear a monitor. The reports are then provided to the schools, he said.

'He wants an education'

Altschuler said that Chad has never posed a danger to anyone at West Catholic, and that if he took the bracelet off he'd be in violation of the judge's order.

"This isn't a case where the young man decides to wear an 'I Heart Boobies' bracelet because he's trying to make a statement," Altschuler said. "He doesn't want to have this on his ankle. A court has ordered that he do that. He's complied with it. The court requires that he goes to school. He'd like to comply with that."

Fred Baker added: "He wants an education. He realizes that he made a mistake. He realizes that the mistake that he made could have gone a different way. He's trying to get past it. A part of his development is school and that environment - that would help any kid get past any situation that they have remorse or regret for."

Chad said that if he doesn't get back into West Catholic, he'd like to go to another Catholic school or a similar nonpublic school.

"I put myself in this predicament," he said, "and I regret it every day."


Twitter: @MensahDean

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