California Catholic school under fire for removing and relocating 'alienating' religious statues

A California Catholic school is facing a backlash from parents after officials took down some religious statues -- including one of Mary and baby Jesus -- over concerns that they were “alienating” prospective students.

The head of the San Domenico School in San Anselmo said parents of some prospective students who visited the campus – which was founded in 1850 and serves 671 students grades K-12 -- expressed concern about the religious figures, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

“If you walk on the campus and the first thing you confront is three or four statues of St. Dominic or St. Francis, it could be alienating for that other religion, and we didn’t want to further that feeling,” Amy Skewes-Cox, who chairs the school's board of trustees.

Cecily Stock, who is head of the school, said most students are not Catholic.

“Over the last few years we’ve had fewer Catholic students as part of the community and a larger number of students of various faith traditions," Stock said. "Right now about 80 percent of our families do not identify as Catholic.”

An official, who described the institution as California’s oldest independent school and first Catholic school, told Fox News a “large number of religious statues” were recently relocated to other parts of the school's campus and some were donated to “appreciative recipients."

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“Our goal in this shift was in alignment with our strategic plan that was approved by our Board of Trustees and Dominican Sisters of San Rafael in June of 2016 and reflects our commitment to continuing a 167-year tradition of inclusive education,” Kimberly Pinkson, director of marketing and communications, told Fox News.

But for some parents, such as Shannon Fitzpatrick, who has an 8-year-old son enrolled at the school, the movement of the statues represents what she believes is a steady erosion of the San Domenico’s Catholic image.

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“Articulating an inclusive foundation appears to mean letting go of San Domenico’s 167-year tradition as a Dominican Catholic school and being both afraid and ashamed to celebrate one’s heritage and beliefs,” Fitzpatrick wrote in a letter to school officials, according to the Marin Independent Journal.

“In our time here, the word ‘Catholic’ has been removed from the mission statement, sacraments were removed from the curriculum, the lower school curriculum was changed to world religions, the logo and colors were changed to be ‘less Catholic,’ and the uniform was changed to be less Catholic,” she added.

Kim Pipki, whose daughter left the school two years ago, told the newspaper that at the center of the uproar is a statue of Mary and baby Jesus that was featured in a ceremony where children would place a crown on her head.

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“People were shocked that the statues were pitched in the basement,” she said.

But Pinkson told Fox News the statues were “temporarily stored in the downstairs of our library."

Amy Skewes-Cox, who leads the school’s board of trustees, said at least 18 of the school's 180 religious icons remain on the school’s grounds. Pinkson said one of them -- St. Dominic, the School’s patron saint – was moved to the center of the school’s campus.

Skewes-Cox said the removal of the statues occurred around the time of the violence in Charlottesville but had no connection to that incident, the Marin Independent Journal reported.