Members of the Padua Academy student body gathered in front of the school Monday morning, joined by parents, alumni and other supporters, to protest the firing of principal Cindy Mann at the end of last week.
The girls, mostly dressed in pink, carried signs, recited prayers and sung as cars passing along on Broom and 10th streets honked their horns.
The decision to dismiss Mann, who has been head of school since 2009-10, was announced by Oblate Father Nick Waseline, the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish. The parish owns Padua Academy, and the principal at Padua reports directly to him.
Students gathered in front of the building and on the surrounding sidewalks early Monday. Mann’s granddaughter, Susannah Snellgrove, a senior and one of the organizers of the rally, said her grandmother was at home, “calling some people to figure this out.”
Pink was the dominant color at the rally, as Mann is famous for wearing pink shoes. Online posts have been marked with the hashtag #PinkShoePower. Many faculty members, who mingled among the students, also wore the color.
Wilmington police helped direct traffic, and Broom Street was eventually closed to automobiles. The girls mostly sat in the brisk morning air, holding signs and talking to parents and assembled media. Jillian Baldo, a junior, said the story dominated her weekend. She said she never gave a thought to not participating.
As she was talking, a group of students from nearby Ursuline Academy arrived with a sign stating their support.
With the students out of class, after-school activities such as athletic practices were canceled. The spring season is scheduled to begin later this week. There is also a blood drive scheduled for Tuesday.
Efforts to reach Father Waseline were unsuccessful. An employee in the parish office said he was unavailable.
The parish issued a statement March 18 outlining parish operations and Padua’s part in it, reaffirming an update provided in February by Father Waseline and pledging to work to keep the parish and Padua Academy moving forward through the transition of leadership at the all-girls high school 0f 600-plus pupils in Wilmington.
“Statements have been made that funds assessed from Padua Academy are supporting St. Anthony of Padua Grade School,” read the statement from the parish. “These statements are false. The annual stewardship contribution from Padua Academy is utilized by the parish for general operating purposes. St. Anthony’s Italian Festival is the primary fundraiser offering support for the parish grade school. The Diocese of Wilmington mandates that a parish subsidize the operating cost of an elementary school it operates between 15% and 35% of the school budget. The parish subsidizes 26% of the grade school operating costs, primarily via revenue raised by the Italian Festival.”
Acting principal Mary McClory said in a March 18 letter to parents that school leaders are ready to support and work with the girls.
“(Saturday), I met with members of Padua’s administration team and then had a faculty and staff meeting (Sunday),” McCrory wrote. “We will continue in our effort to follow Padua’s mission and support our students. ”
Snellgrove said students will be wearing pink all week regardless of how everything proceeds. With snow and colder weather on the way, along with academic realities, they may be going back to class at some point.
“Obviously, we can’t stay here all week,” she said.
Across Broom Street, dozens of parents stood with signs reading “Reinstate Mrs. Mann.” Randy Miller, whose daughter Rebecca is a senior, said he was totally behind the girls’ efforts. He and fellow parent Susan Marvel, whose daughter Emily is also a senior, said their daughters might be graduating in a few months, but they are concerned.
“I appreciate the statement the parish made to clarify the situation, but it doesn’t explain the abrupt firing of Mrs. Mann,” Miller said.
Marvel was also concerned about how this would affect graduation.
“It really puts a damper on things,” she said.
She said she’s willing to support her daughter remaining outside “as long as it takes, as far as I’m concerned.”