Today’s news:

Accusatory Catholic principal dismissed

The principal of St. Elizabeth’s parochial school in Ozone Park, who had filed a lawsuit accusing the former pastor of financial mismanagement and sexual harassment, was put on unpaid leave last week hours before the new school year began.

Barbara Samide, 39, principal of the Roman Catholic school, claims a Sept. 3 conversation with the current pastor, Rev. Steven Ferrari, about her intention to amend her lawsuit prompted the action.

Michael Dowd, Samide’s lawyer, said she told Ferrari she was going to add charges of physical assault to her lawsuit against Rev. John Thompson.

“This is classic retaliation against the whistle-blower,” Dowd said. “It’s not even subtle, it’s rather crude.”

The original lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn in June, accuses Thompson of financial wrongdoings and sexual harassment. It claims Thompson used as much as $300,000 in parish funds for himself and his alleged lover, and caused Samide to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Samide contends part of the money Thompson allegedly misappropriated was from student tuition fees paid in cash and a school candy sale.

Dowd said he had written church officials earlier requesting that Samide be transferred or put on paid leave because her difficult relationship with Thompson put her under emotional and physical strain. Dowd said he never had requested unpaid leave.

But Ferrari, in a letter dated Sept. 6, said the decision to temporarily remove Samide came at her own request.

“Suffice it to say that, according to the doctor’s diagnosis and recommendations, the granting of her requested leave is in Mrs. Samide’s best interests and for her emotional well-being,” the letter said.

Ferrari said he wrote the letter to clear up “a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding” surrounding his move to place Samide on unpaid leave.

Her contract does not include provisions for unpaid leave, however, leaving Dowd to question Ferrari’s decision.

“They were looking for a way to fire her,” Dowd said. “They’re completely irresponsible about the impact on the school, the parents and the kids.”

Frank DeRosa, spokesman for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said it is general policy in the teachers’ and principal’s handbook to not grant pay for leaves of absence. He said the church’s priority is maintaining school schedules and educating the students.

He also said Dowd’s claims that Samide was “banned” or fired from her position were wrong.

“Mrs. Samide has a legal contract through August of 2003,” Mr. DeRosa said. “If she had a reason to go on campus and she called ahead, she could go.”

A grand jury in Queens is reviewing the allegations against Thompson. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown declined to comment on the state of Samide’s lawsuit.

Dowd said Samide came in to school Sept. 3 with her husband to clean up before students arrived. She then met with Ferrari, who presented her with previously unseen memos that said she was unqualified to serve, her attorney said.

The two then discussed Samide’s intention to amend her lawsuit. Some 2 1/2 hours later, according to Dowd, he received the letter putting Mrs. Samide on unpaid leave.

School officials distributed two letters to students at the end of the day, a copy of Dowd’s request for Samide’s transfer or paid leave, and a note from Samide’s psychiatrist confirming her post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They were trying to distort the facts,” Dowd said. “They wanted everyone to know Mrs. Samide was wrong.”

Thompson, who despite having charges filed against him since March, continued to visit St. Elizabeth’s this summer and only a few weeks ago gave up an ATM card linked to school funds, Dowd said.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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