The Office of the Superintendent of Schools announced last week that 20 Catholic elementary schools in the Archdiocese of New York will be unable to reopen in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Additionally, three Catholic schools in Orange County will merge on one campus.
“Children are always the most innocent victims of any crisis, and this Covid-19 pandemic is no exception,” Cardinal Dolan said in a statement July 9, the day of the announcement. “Too many have lost parents and grandparents to this insidious virus, and now thousands will not see their beloved school again.”
The cardinal added, “I’ve kept a hopeful eye on our schools throughout this saga and my prayers are with all of the children and their families who will be affected by this sad news. Given the devastation of this pandemic, I’m grateful more schools didn’t meet this fate, and that Catholic schools nearby are ready to welcome all the kids.”
The following schools will not reopen:
Corpus Christi School
Our Lady of Pompeii School
Nativity of Our Blessed Lady School
Our Lady of the Assumption School
SS. Philip and James School
St. John’s School (Kingsbridge)
St. Luke School
St. Thomas Aquinas School
Our Lady of Mount Carmel-St. Benedicta School
St. Joseph-St. Thomas School
SS. Peter and Paul School
Holy Family School, New Rochelle
Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Pelham Manor
St. Ann School, St. Paul School, both Yonkers
St. Patrick School, Bedford
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Shrub Oak
St. Peter School, Poughkeepsie
Sacred Heart School, Suffern
Divine Mercy School, New Windsor
St. John School in Goshen will welcome the following school communities to its campus: Sacred Heart School, Monroe, and St. Stephen-St. Edward School, Warwick.
The coronavirus public health crisis has had a devastating financial impact on Catholic school families and the archdiocese as a whole. Mass unemployment and continuing health concerns have resulted in families’ inability to pay their current tuition, and a significantly low rate of registration for the fall. Parish contributions, which traditionally help support the schools, have decreased during months of canceled public Masses, and fundraising for scholarships has also been curtailed.
Much deliberation and analysis went into the final determination of which schools would not reopen. It is expected these changes, which will impact approximately 2,500 students and 350 staff, are designed to improve overall fiscal stability and strengthen the vitality of New York Catholic schools for decades to come.
“The reality of these schools being lost is painful, and it was only accepted reluctantly after a detailed study was conducted of their respective fiscal standing in the wake of the coronavirus public health crisis,” Superintendent of Schools Michael J. Deegan said in a statement.
“I have been a Catholic school educator for more than 40 years, and could never have imagined the grave impact this pandemic has had on our schools. If more assistance is not forthcoming in the longed for HEROES Act now before Congress, I am afraid even more might close.”
Deegan, in a phone interview with CNY July 10, said, “One of the things that makes these decisions so heartbreaking is the fact that these schools that will not be able to reopen in September were very successful schools.”
He noted they had “great test scores, wonderful programs, committed parents, dedicated teachers and principals” and were “rich in their Catholic culture.”
The superintendent’s office is working closely with each affected family to help find a neighboring Catholic school for the fall. Directors of enrollment will provide families with information and answer any questions they have, whether about enrollment, transportation or tuition.
Affected families have also been sent a letter which includes a link to a website that lists neighboring schools and other resources. “Families will be able to use the internet to visit schools that they may consider sending their children to,” Deegan said.
In an addition to virtual tours, “on an appointment by appointment basis” open houses and visitation opportunities will also be available for affected families who would like to see a receiving school in person, “following the guidelines of social distancing,” including wearing masks and a restriction of how many may visit at a time.
Principals of the closing schools will also speak to their families, and encourage and recommend schools for their children, as they know the surrounding schools as well. “The affected principals and the receiving principals have already begun conversations about how they can transition their children to another school.”
Benchmarks for the closing and merging schools, Deegan explained, included low enrollment, outstanding tuition and, the overarching issue, “the lack of funding available by the archdiocese because our parishes were closed for four months so that the weekly offerings, a part of which goes to support Catholic schools, was not available.”
As all the schools were examined, the superintendent said, “we looked at their enrollment projections for September,” recognizing “there are families that are unable to pay their tuition, because they are unemployed” and “families, because they don’t know whether they are going to get their jobs back,” who are not going to commit to registering their children. “We have other families that are not going to or are not willing right now to register for next year because they don’t know what September’s going to look like in terms of the pandemic.”
Low registration and re-registration, he said, “is a major factor in contributing to the identification of the schools that will not reopen.”
“Every single school in the system was reviewed and analyzed—not just a small portion,” Deegan said. “We’ve been monitoring the progress of tuition collection, registration and re-registration in every Catholic elementary school in the archdiocese. The schools revealed themselves through this analysis.”
The superintendent’s office is also working in coordination with the teachers’ union to help faculty of the affected schools find employment within the archdiocesan school system.
Deegan thanked Cardinal Dolan “for his advocacy on behalf of Catholic schools.”
“Washington and Albany have turned a blind eye to Catholic schools in the country and in New York,” the superintendent said. “And therefore, we have not received the governmental support and funding that our families deserve.”
Deegan considers it “very, very disheartening when elected officials refer to Catholic schools in the archdiocese as elite, private, collegiate academies.”
“That’s not the people we serve,” the superintendent said. “We serve low-and- middle income, hardworking people. And to associate us by using as an excuse the government should not be funding rich, private schools, they are not talking about our Catholic schools.”
Deegan said he and the cardinal have worked hard with Washington and Albany “to open up their eyes” to the CARES and HEROES acts.
“We are demanding of our elected officials that they respect the choices of our parents to send their children to Catholic schools by providing funding that every other school in the country is getting, to help support the schools going forward.”
Asked how those in the affected schools could come to accept that their schools will not reopen, Deegan said, “All of us, including the decision-makers, need to rely on our faith, we need to rely on the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and we need to rely on the grace that’s going to carry us through this very difficult time—no differently than all of us relying on our faith during the pandemic in general.”
The superintendent said he would remind those who have been affected by the closures that “while they certainly were a part of the community in a specific school, more importantly they’re part of the community of faith of the Church and of the archdiocese. That has not changed.”
“Their relationship with the Catholic school system has not changed. Their school building and their relationship with that particular school community have changed,” Deegan said, “but I am hopeful and I pray that as these families come to reconcile this heartbreaking decision, they will rely on their faith and recognize that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”
The receiving schools, the superintendent concluded, have their doors open and “stand ready with open hearts and open minds to welcome these children.”