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Long IslandEducation

Parents fight closure of only Catholic high school on East End

The parents of students at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead are organizing a petition drive, but diocesan officials say decision is final.

Ava Stumbo, 15, a freshman from Rocky Point,

Ava Stumbo, 15, a freshman from Rocky Point, wrote a letter petitioning the superintendent of diocesan schools against the closing of Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead. She's seen Tuesday with her mother, Donna Stumbo. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Parents livid over the closing of the only Catholic high school on the East End said Tuesday they are launching a campaign to try to reverse the decision.

The parents of students at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School in Riverhead are organizing a petition drive, writing letters to diocesan officials and seeking a meeting with Bishop John Barres.

“We would be willing to do anything to keep our school open,” said Donna Stumbo, whose daughter, Ava, 15, is president of the freshman class. Stumbo, of Rocky Point, said parents are willing to pay higher tuition, organize fundraising drives and do anything else the diocese asks.

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said the decision, announced late Monday afternoon, would not be overturned.

“We recognize the pain and disruption this decision causes for our school families,” Dolan said Tuesday in a statement. “Unfortunately, due to a steady and dramatic decline in current and projected enrollment, coupled with the significant and increasing need to subsidize the school, we are no longer able to sustain Bishop McGann-Mercy High School.”

He added that the diocese is “doing everything possible to ensure students are given the option to continue their Catholic education.”

The diocese said the school, which the diocese took over in 2001, received $16.3 million in subsidies from 2007 through the last school year, and was on track to require another $2.3 million this school year.

Only 55 students were registered for the incoming freshman class, the diocese said, compared with the 91 expected to graduate in June.

The closing was announced in conjunction with the merger of two elementary schools on the East End: Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in Cutchogue and St. Isidore School in Riverhead. They will become one school, located on the St. Isidore site.

Parents said they were caught off guard by the announced closing of McGann-Mercy, which has grades 7 to 12, because no school or diocesan officials had indicated it was in trouble.

“I’m disgusted and infuriated,” said Michelle Muller, a Coram resident who has children in the 7th and 10th grades. The students “have made the school a home, and now they are taking it away.”

“I feel the diocese does not care about the children,” Muller said. “It’s all about their bottom line and money.” She added that “we’re not going down without a fight.”

Jane Sherman, a Wading River resident with children in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades, said: “We were stunned. We were shocked.”

“The East End has been completely abandoned by the diocese,” she said.

By Monday night, Stumbo’s daughter had written a letter to Kathleen Walsh, superintendent of schools for the diocese. “Finding out about Mercy closing ripped my friends and me apart,” Ava Stumbo wrote. “If the Diocese wants kids to be good Catholics, why would they take away the one part of their lives that brings them closer to the Catholic faith?”

The school, she said, “will forever be our home, and we will stop at nothing to keep it that way. Once a Monarch, always a Monarch!”

The diocese is offering McGann-Mercy students automatic admission to St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip for next fall, though some parents said the distance — about 40 miles — made that option problematic.

Some also said they thought families would begin to pull their children out of Catholic grammar schools on the East End because they will have no viable option to attend a Catholic high school.

“The kids have been crying since they found out” McGann-Mercy is closing, Donna Stumbo said. “It’s a beautiful school. It’s a family.”

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