COVID causes epidemic of school closures

In what is being described as an epidemic of Catholic schools’ closures, the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic has hit Catholic education hard.

To date, more than 100 US elementary and high schools have announced they are closing down.

The Catholic schools’ closures are affecting parish schools and those run by religious orders.

“It’s not a pretty picture right now,” said Sr Dale McDonald, public policy director of the National Catholic Educational Association.

She is predicting the number of closures could double by the beginning of the next US school year, which starts in in September.

“Schools are not just buildings. They represent communities that provide important faith formation for our children,” said Bishop David Zubik of Pittsbrugh, when he announced two schools in his diocese were closing.

“I pray that we will be able to come together in the midst of these changes to be grateful for what we have, and to continue to be good stewards of what we are able to utilize to provide Catholic education to our communities.

“Sadly, with funding sources critically reduced due to the impact of the global pandemic, we do not have the ability to financially sustain every one of our school buildings.”

Some of the schools closing for good are are among the country’s oldest Catholic establishments. They include Baltimore’s Institute of Notre Dame, which was started in 1847. Another school that won’t be reopening in September is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral School in Memphis, Tennessee, which has served that city for 98 years.

In northern New Jersey, 10 Catholic schools are closing, including one that only opened in the inner city in 2007 and has placed every graduate in college.

“This is a crucial time for the sustainability and success of our Catholic schools,” Cardinal Joseph W Tobin says.

“However, the Archdiocese [of Newark] could not ignore the dual threats of declining enrolment and rapidly increased subsidies that were necessary to sustain every school.”

Catholic schools have been feeling financial pressure amidst rising costs and shifting demographics for some time.

Now, with millions unemployed and great uncertainty about the future, parents are reluctant to pay tuition which averages US$5,000 for an elementary education and US$11,000 for a Catholic high school.

Furthermore, many Catholic inner-city schools have not only provided a ticket out of poverty for poor children (many of whom are non-Catholic) but they create enormous social capital in the neighbourhoods they serve.


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