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Canisius High School president announces resignation

Canisius High School’s president, Rev. Joseph Costantino, announced during a faculty meeting Tuesday afternoon that he will resign at the end of the school year in May, school spokesman Tom Lucia confirmed.

“Out of respect for him and the announcement and the folks who haven’t heard yet, we won’t be issuing any statement until (Wednesday) about it,” Lucia said, while declining to comment further.

A source who asked not be identified said Costantino read a short prepared statement, announced his resignation to the faculty and staff and then walked out.

Costantino’s resignation comes less than a week after school officials announced they will implement policy reforms in the wake of last year’s cheating allegations against a star football player. The News reported Friday that a formal investigation surrounding the events of November – which included the firing of a top school administrator – showed the incident was not part of a larger, systemic problem at the Jesuit boys school.

Lucia would not comment on Costantino’s reason for resigning, but noted that the investigation headed by attorney Terrence M. Connors did not recommend any leadership changes.

In an email Tuesday to school alumni, Costantino wrote, “In what I believe is the best interest of Canisius High School, I have decided to resign from my position as president at the end of May. It is time for healing and a fresh start with new leadership.

“As we all know, some of the changes I felt needed to be instituted at the school were embraced as long overdue; other decisions, or at least the execution of some of those decisions, were seen as confusing or unsettling,” he wrote in the email. “Unfortunately, some of my efforts – always motivated by what I thought was best for all – were unpopular.”

A controversy erupted in November when senior Brad Zaffram, a standout senior linebacker on the football team, was suspended and Beck O’Connor, former dean of students, was dismissed.

The Buffalo News reported in November that O’Connor was dismissed for mishandling allegations that Zaffram cheated on an examination.

O’Connor, a source said at the time, treated the episode as the football player’s first-time offense, but other Canisius officials considered it as a repeat infraction because of an incident that happened while the student attended Sweet Home High School.

In that case, the source said, Zaffram had a cellphone turned on during a Regents exam, which was a violation of procedures.

As a result, the controversy focused on whether O’Connor – who was in charge of discipline – should have issued a letter of reprimand to Zaffram or imposed a suspension that would have included being barred from extracurricular activities for 30 days.

Meanwhile, an online petition of unknown origin sought support for O’Connor’s reinstatement as well as a proposal that “Fr. Joseph Costantino’s position as president of Canisius High School should be re-evaluated.”

Costantino’s resignation letter was accepted by the school’s board of trustees, Lucia said. Board Chairman Robert J. Reger Jr. declined to comment Tuesday.

Lucia said the future of principal Timothy Fitzgerald, who has been out on medical leave, was not addressed at Tuesday’s meeting.

He also would not comment on speculation that the Rev. David S. Ciancimino, a former Canisius principal during the 1990s, may succeed Costantino.

Costantino has been president of the private Delaware Avenue school for less than two years.

He assumed the role July 1, 2013, after serving as pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in New York City since September 2006.

Costantino’s successor will be the school’s fifth president in seven years. The Rev. James P. Higgins stepped down in 2008. John M. Knight, the first non-Jesuit appointed president, served until 2012. And an interim president ran the school until Costantino’s appointment.

News Sports Reporter Keith McShea contributed to this report. email: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com