‘Embarrassed to be Catholic’ — NJ girl’s father reacts to losing lawsuit, scolding by judge
SCOTCH PLAINS — Scott Phillips said his lawsuit against St. Teresa's School of Kenilworth and the Newark Archdiocese was not about basketball but about bullying.
A day after a judge ruled that the archdiocese, which runs the Catholic school, was within its right to bar his daughters, Sydney and Kaitlyn, from attending school this fall, Phillips told New Jersey 101.5 that he is "embarrassed right now to be a Catholic" at the church's actions.
Scott Phillips said the court battle has not broken the spirit of his girls. "Mine they have but my daughters they haven't." Sydney and Kaitlyn continue to be part of the alter service program, Phillips said.
Scott Phillips said his son noticed the Archdiocese's statement about the Phillips family on a sanctuary wall. He said is normally reserved for baptism pictures. He told his son to "tough it out."
He said that it was never about the school not allowing her to play on the boys team after the girls team was disbanded last season due to lack of participation.
"It's all about the bullying she's been undergoing, the school did nothing about it and we had to take it to court to try and get it stopped. The bottom line is we were asked to leave. We made too much noise and shook the tree too hard." .
Phillips said his now-13-year-old daughter Sydney started getting bullied by some boys before playing on the basketball team was even an issue by standing up for a friend in March 2016 who was getting bullied by a boy. Sydney told the boy to stop and wanted to go to the principal, according to her father. His daughter was told by a teacher that she would "take care of it."
The former police officer said that it appeared nothing was ever said and the bullying continued to include his daughter.
Phillips said the bullying continued during the 2016-17 school year when the controversy began over Sydney playing for the boys basketball team after the girls team was disbanded.
Phillips said Sydney was the one who paid the price for bullying by leaving the school. The boys who bullied only got detention, according to Phillips.
He also shared screenshots of Facebook comments directed at Sydney he said were written by students and teachers aides. Comments were also directed at Archbishop Joseph Tobin who stepped in and allowed Sydney to play on the boys team for the rest of the 2016-17 school year.
Saint Teresa's denied Sydney and Kaitlyn's application to attend the school in September and the case wound up in court.
Archdiocese spokesman James Goodness said that the Phillips suit contradicts the words of their own attorney, “no one is above the law,” and is about more than sports.
“The plaintiffs have demonstrated clearly and strongly that, in their minds, the rules and laws of St. Theresa School and Parish do not apply to them. For them, rules may be fine for other parents and students in the St. Theresa community, but not for them; everyone must treat them and their children differently,” Goodness wrote.
In his decision, Judge Donald Kessler lashed out at the girls' parents for making the dispute public, and said the family did not cite any law that would have allowed the court to interfere with the religious school's decision.
Sydney and her younger daughter Kaitlyn will likely attend Terrill Middle School in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood public schools, but Scott Phillips said he is still talking to his lawyer. Scott said that Sydney is "heartbroken" she will likely not be part of the only school she has ever attended. Sydney would still like to attend the semi-formal dance with her graduating eighth grade class and go on the class trip to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania.
He said the students and parents have been "fantastic" and supportive of the girls.
"We got more support from out of town than the school they were in," Phillips said.
The judge admonished Phillips from the bench as he announced his ruling, which he said was tough to take but stands by his actions.
"We stood up for our daughter. We didn't do anything wrong...I have tough skin, I sat there and listened to it and I shook my head," Phillips said.
Goodness in a statement said the archdiocese supported the court's ruling but said it was not a "day for rejoicing."
"We also sought to protect the serenity and well-being of a larger school and parish community that has been victimized by the behavior of two parents who would not accept the rules by which the school operates. At all times we acted not to punish anyone, but to protect the vital Catholic mission of a community of learning and faith."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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