Will Muller, a rising sixth grader at St. John LaLande Catholic School in Blue Springs, has been kicked out — “disenrolled” after much prayer, according to a July 19 letter from the principal, Susan Martin.
This is not because Will, who is 11, was struggling academically or did anything wrong. On the contrary, “he’s an ‘A’ student,” said the mother of a classmate, and liked by everybody. “My son would say he’s the only one who never talks or gets in any trouble.”
According to the letter, he’s being expelled because his parents, Paul and Hollee Muller, have “stated both verbally and in writing you do not agree with nor do you support the teachings of the Catholic Church. After prayerful consideration and discussion among our school administration it is obvious we no longer have a partnership with you, since the values of your family are not in alignment with those of our school. Therefore, the school administration has made the decision to disenroll your child from our school.”
As it happens, the Mullers are mainstays of the parish and the school, where they are volunteer basketball and track coaches, run a Tuesday night “open gym” for the kids, and “volunteer to do a lot of things other parents won’t,” said that same St. John mother, who like all four other parents I spoke to, did not want her name used out of fear that she, too, might be shown the door and left scrambling to find a new school three weeks before classes begin. “Their whole life was that church. It’s just wrong, and it’s going to hurt a lot of the kids.”
Hollee’s “given so much of her time, I’m shocked they would do this,” said a second St. John mom.
Paul Muller attended St. John himself, as did his 15 siblings. So this decision is devastating for their family, and for the wider community, too.
Exactly what Catholic values do the Mullers not share?
Hollee was vice president of the school’s advisory board, and she objected to changes at the school since Father Sean McCaffery became pastor of the parish a year ago.
New priest yanked library books, banned Duolingo app
“The priest came rolling in hot,” Hollee said, “yanking books” from the school library, including one about a polar bear with two mommies and all of Rick Riordan’s work, some of which features characters who are gay, bisexual, lesbian and trans.
As Hollie herself sums up her supposed heresy, “I don’t think being blatantly homophobic is a teaching of the Catholic Church.”
The Duolingo language app was taken away, according to parents, because it translates the words “gay” and “lesbian.” CNN 10, a news source for “explanation seekers on the go or in the classroom,” was pulled, Hollee said, “because the priest said we don’t need the media teaching our kids.”
A third mom I spoke to said she was told that CNN 10 was out “because its parent company is too liberal.” She and others said Father McCaffery does not respond to concerns, “or even look at us” who ask questions. “I don’t consider myself liberal, but banning books, and Duolingo? Don’t punish the child for the parent. And honestly, Hollee did nothing wrong.”
Hollee was also among those who spoke up after a teacher told her older son’s seventh grade homeroom that girls who wear leggings might leave the impression that they are “whores.”
School officials called the uproar that followed that classroom discussion “a big misunderstanding,” the not-liberal mom said, “but a lot of parents were upset” by what their kids told them about the teacher’s suggestion that it was up to girls to help boys get to heaven by protecting them from lustful thoughts.
In one of a bunch of emails to and from school administration that Hollee shared with me, after the “whore” incident, she suggested to the school principal that “perhaps we need to start working on educating our boys how to respect others and appropriate treatment of women instead of focusing on teaching girls how to ‘stay safe’ around others.”
Her older son, Andrew, a rising eighth grader, had already decided not to stay at the school, where he had grown uncomfortable over the last year. But his younger brother Will still very much wanted to be there.
As a private school, of course, St. John can expel anyone, any time, for any reason or none. Parents at the school sign a “covenant” that they will support church teachings, and Hollee freely admits that while she’s a weekly Mass attending Catholic, she does not agree with everything her faith teaches.
But punishing a child for the dissension of his parents does seem heartless: “He’s in tears,” Hollee said.
It’s only this decision by the school, she says, that has shaken her faith, not in God, but “in whether I do belong in the church.”
Other parents fear retaliation if they support Mullers
The decision has put Will, who has a life-threatening peanut and other serious food allergies that everyone at St. John accommodated, at greater physical risk in a new place where he knows no one.
It’s punishing his classmates, who according to their parents are sad and upset that their friend won’t be with them when school starts next month.
And it has frightened other parents, which they believe was part of the point.
One said she’s afraid that since she’s not Catholic, her family might be next. Another said that she’s going to write to Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., anonymously, since it’s now plain that any who disagree will be purged.
All mentioned how hypocritical it is to single the Mullers’ son out for expulsion when many other single and divorced parents, along with some married ones, obviously aren’t in complete agreement with church doctrine, either.
“We do sign that family covenant that says we’ll go to Mass every Sunday, but I’m at Mass every Sunday and there are a lot of people who aren’t there,” said the same mom who called Will the only one in his class who never got in trouble. “I don’t agree with all of the teachings of the Catholic Church. In fact, I’m in line at the pharmacy to pick up my birth control right now, and no one’s kicking me out.”
If complete fidelity — adherence to, or even agreement with all doctrine — were really a requirement rather than a goal, Catholic schools would be empty. And if evangelization were the point, you’d think the school would be more concerned about keeping the child in the fold than about excluding his parents from it.
No comment from pastor, principal, superintendent
Neither the pastor, Father McCaffery, nor the principal, Susan Martin, responded to my messages. Nor did the superintendent, Karen Kroh.
A statement that the spokeswoman for the diocese sent me on behalf of the school said that non-Catholic families “are always welcome.”
The statement used the language of divorce — or no, of legal separation, and suggested that the school had no choice, given that Hollee Muller had violated the contract she signed in August of last year.
“Every family who enrolls a student in our diocesan Catholic schools signs a Family-School Covenant agreeing to understand and support the moral and social doctrine of the Catholic Church and to know and support the school rules. … When a family challenges Catholic teaching and curriculum decisions through sustained complaints to the school and diocesan administration, irreconcilable differences can arise. In these situations, it is in the best interest of the family and the school to separate.”
Is it, though? The other parents who talked to me don’t see this as a pastor and principal standing up for orthodoxy, but for their own convenience. In effect, this is the adults in charge choosing to hurt children to spare themselves the annoyance of being challenged.
“If she’s not there,” said one, “then she’ll have no reason to email them.”
At this point, the Mullers have given up on keeping their younger son at St. John.
“I just keep telling myself though if it helps one LGBTQ kid or parent or friend be seen or heard or valued, then I have done what is right,” Hollie said in a text.
Still, even now, she wrote, “I just keep thinking about what I could have done or if I’m doing the right thing.” You sound Catholic to me, I told her.
But do those who have cast out an 11-year-old suffer from any such doubts about their actions?
Because I can’t see how standing up against CNN and for the right of a teacher to talk about “whores” in leggings advances the teachings of the church.