Catholic Diocese removes Fresno principal

The principal of St. Helen's Catholic School in Fresno has been removed from her position after 15 years, but Catholic Diocese officials won't say why -- or whether it's permanent.

Parents and supporters of Toni Amodio say they are angry that they haven't been told what prompted last week's action. The principal's office door has been dead-bolted shut.

"If there was cause, they would be very public about it," said Caroline Kindig, who has two children attending the school. "Because it's quiet and shrouded in secrecy, it raises suspicion."

Amodio didn't return calls seeking a comment. The school referred calls to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, which oversees the 265-student school at Belmont and Chestnut avenues.

"It's a personnel issue and by policy, we are not allowed to release anything," said Richard Sexton, superintendent of schools for the diocese.

Sexton did confirm that Amodio's last day as principal was Feb. 26 and that, as of Thursday, she remained employed by the diocese schools. He said two vice principals have been appointed to take over her duties -- Cindy Winstead and Richelle LeFay.

St. Helen's is one of 20 elementary schools and two high schools overseen by the diocese.

By all accounts, Amodio, 65, was a popular principal, well-liked by both students and parents. Parents who spoke to The Bee on Thursday said they can't imagine why she lost her job.

Bertha Martinez was so upset at Amodio's removal that she resigned as treasurer of the school's parent-teacher group Tuesday in protest. "Until I get an answer, I'm not going to give my time to that school," she said.

Martinez has a son in the school's eighth grade, and her daughter graduated from St. Helen's. She has known Amodio the entire 15 years she's been principal and said she was responsible for a new cafeteria, library, music room and teachers' lounge at the school.

Several parents said they believe Amodio's departure is linked to ongoing friction she had with the Rev. Salvador Gonzalez, who arrived as the school's pastor about two years ago. They said Gonzalez had sought to have Robin McGehee, a lesbian and mother of a St. Helen's student, removed as president of the parent-teacher group in late 2008 after her public protest of Proposition 8, which declares marriage in California only to be between a man and a woman. Amodio supported McGehee, the parents said.

Sexton did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the alleged friction between Gonzalez and Amodio.

Parents said they have been told only that Amodio is "absent."

Martinez said parents know Amodio won't return. They saw a U-Haul parked in front of the school Tuesday evening while Amodio packed up her belongings under the watchful eye of a diocese staffer, Martinez said.

"What really hurts me is the fact that some of these kids have been here nine or 10 years -- they were raised with Dr. Amodio -- they didn't let them say goodbye. I would have loved for my son to give her a hug," she said.