KAPA‘A — Mary Ann Bode has stepped down from her role as interim principal at St. Catherine School in Kapa‘a following allegations of abuse and unethical behavior targeted toward teachers.
Bode was appointed interim principal in July 2020, replacing David Adams, as the school continued to look for a permanent principal.
In November 2020, the Rev. William Tulua took on the role of vice principal at St. Catherine. Since then, several teachers have either been fired or left, alleging bullying and verbal abuse by both Tulua and Bode. The latest was fourth-grade teacher Elizabeth Sancho, who has been working at the school for eight years.
Bode was not on campus Thursday and unavailable for comment.
Sancho was fired Monday, and that triggered action in the school community. On Thursday morning, concerned parents and former teachers held a sign-waiving demonstration in front of the school in Kapa‘a, to call for Bode’s resignation and Tulua’s ouster.
“I think that I was wrongfully terminated for talking out against the administration,” Sancho said. “It warms my heart to see the support here. It’s beautiful, and it’s long overdue. I tried to be quiet about this (this) whole year. I’ve been feeling bullied.”
Among the gathered Thursday was Laura Nelson, the school’s former librarian, who left the school earlier this year because of what she says was a toxic work environment.
“We are here to raise awareness about the unjust firing of our beloved fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Elizabeth Sansho, and the unacceptable working conditions under our current administration,” Nelson said.
This isn’t the first time Bode has faced allegations of discrimination and creating a hostile work environment. In 2006 she was the crux of a dispute between the state Department of Education and Hawai‘i State Teachers Association, involving 11 teachers and a counselor at Kapa‘a Middle School when Bode was principal there.
The case was closed in a non-admission resolution in February 2009, two years after Bode retired from her position at Kapa‘a Middle School. The complaint cited the same behavior alleged by St. Catherine staff — a toxic work environment, bullying of staff and verbal abuse.
St. Catherine Parent Teacher Guild President Noa Char said he was at the Thursday demonstration to support Sancho, who PTG members feel was fired unjustly.
“She is St. Catherine,” Char said. “They’ve been complaining to everybody and nobody’s listening,” Char said. “It’s not just her, but multiple teachers. I’m not going to say their names. Multiple employees have run their complaints and concerns all the way up to the bishop, but nobody responded. This is our last resort.”
Second-grade parents Erwin and Ema Garcia were out holding signs Thursday in support of Sancho and other teachers at St. Catherine.
“Our parents are here supporting the teachers,” Ema Garcia said. “And we just believe that the teachers are not the problem here, that they are being wronged, as our children have experienced aggressive behavior within the school, and it needs to stop.”
After the sign-waving demonstration in front of St. Catherine School and church Thursday, the Rev. Anthony Rapozo, parish pastor, announced to The Garden Island that Bode would be stepping down “effective immediately.”
“I know there are some who are upset over the departure of Elizabeth Sancho and held a rally today to voice their concerns,” Rapozo said Thursday.
“We have heard their concerns. It is also my kuleana to hold our teachers and staff members accountable for what is expected of them and what they agreed to as employees of our school. Every decision made is based, first and foremost, on what we believe is in the best interest for our students.”
Sister Gina Palic Senapilo will be finishing out the remainder of the year as interim principal, effective Monday, April 19.
Senapilo, a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, is an experienced educator with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, and currently serves as director of religious education at Immaculate Conception Church in Lihu‘e.
“We will continue our search for a permanent principal,” Rapozo said.
“We are grateful for the contributions that both Ms. Sancho and Ms. Bode have made to St. Catherine School, and we wish them all the best in their future endeavors. As a matter of school policy and out of respect to our faculty and staff, all personnel matters are confidential.”
This story has been edited on April 16 at 10:44 a.m. for accuracy.
Stephanie Shinno, education, business, and community reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.