Principal of Christian Brothers High says he was fired. Parents, students demand answers

Students, parents, and community members are reeling over the departure of the principal of Christian Brothers High School in Sacramento after just two years on the job.

Chris Orr told The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday he was removed from his position Oct. 11 with little explanation. A Christian Brothers representative declined to tell The Bee whether Orr was fired, and said that Orr’s work at the Catholic college prep school in Oak Park “has concluded.”

Orr’s exit closely follows the departure of Christian Brothers’ president. The school’s Board of Trustees chairman, Stephen Mahaney, announced in a letter July 18 that this year will be President Lorcan Barnes’ final year at the school. The letter did not specify a reason.

Shortly after the announcement, Barnes sent an email to Orr, telling him that it will be Orr’s final year as principal.

But on Oct. 14, Barnes sent an email to families and faculty stating that Orr “has concluded his service to Christian Brothers High School effective immediately.” His email said the departure was a “personnel matter.”

Mahaney sent a letter to parents and community members on Oct. 28 stating that the Board of Trustees “sees no reason to believe the circumstances are inconsistent with Christian Brothers’ values, policies, and principles.”

Parents held a silent protest in support of Orr last Wednesday morning in front of the Christian Brothers campus, and met at Ephraim Williams Family Life Center at St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Sacramento multiple times to share their concerns.

On Monday night, Orr joined a meeting filled with parents and community members, where he referred to his termination as unlawful.

“[Lorcan’s] subsequent decision to abruptly terminate me is improper and truly troubling in light of the personnel reasons and facts surrounding his resignation,” Orr said. “I believe my termination was not only unlawful, but it was also completely inconsistent with the policies, rules and practices established by the Catholic Diocese, Lasallian District, and Board of Trustees.”

Several students and parents expressed concern because Orr is not the first administrator to leave the school in recent months.

Orr hired Michelle Williams as assistant principal a month after he was hired, and she left in April. The reason for her departure is unclear. Both Orr and Williams were two of the first African-American administrators at the school.

“We want answers for why Mr. Orr is gone,” Christian Brothers junior Aziza McGee said at a protest in front of the school last Wednesday. “We just want him back because he connected with most of us students on another level, like he was really sweet to everybody. Nobody has ever had a principal like him. So now that he’s gone, it’s really frustrated a lot of us.”

McGee and other organizers said protests will continue until Orr returns.

Orr retained legal counsel and hired attorney Johnny Griffin to respond to his termination. Orr said at the meeting Monday he hopes the matter can be resolved without litigation so that he can return to his job and continue to serve the school.

“When faced with unfairness and injustice, you stand up with dignity and honor,” Orr said. “Put your chin up, your chest out and with uncompromising humility, you stand up for what’s right.”

“I am very appreciative and touched by the support I have received from the students, families and community,” Orr said in an interview with The Bee. “I miss the students and the dedicated staff.”

Orr received notable support from the community, including alumni.

“[People] saw Chris Orr as a huge accomplishment for the school and the African American community,” Sacramento City Councilman Steven Hansen, who is an alumnus of a Christian Brothers high school in Minnesota, told The Bee. “He is well loved person by students, parents and faculty. That calls into question the motivation of the board.”

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna said on his Facebook page that Orr’s departure “troubles me greatly.”

Christian Brothers is one of two co-educational four-year Catholic high school in Sacramento. Following its Lasallian and Catholic traditions, the school serves a diverse range of students who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The school made a commitment to remain in the Oak Park neighborhood, and encourages its 1,200 students to serve others.

“The whole mission of the Lasallian order is to serve kids who are troubled and disadvantaged, said Hansen. “It’s deeply troubling if they have undermined that mission.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story reported Christian Brother was the only co-educational four-year Catholic high school in Sacramento.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.