This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Scott Eidler, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.
The Roman Catholic Church in the New York City area announced Thursday it is closing 26 schools and merging three others due to lower enrollment and declining parish collections, both caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Archdiocese of New York said it will merge the three Catholic schools and close 20 more, while the Diocese of Brooklyn said it is closing six — including four in Queens.
The moves come weeks after the Diocese of Rockville Centre announced it was closing three Long Island Catholic schools for the same reasons, and amid warnings from education experts that the economic impact of the virus threatens private schools statewide.
“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," said Michael J. Deegan, superintendent of schools for the archdiocese.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said, “Children are always the most innocent victims of any crisis, and this COVID-19 pandemic is no exception."
Meanwhile, New York State continues to make good progress in controlling the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday, but he warned that surging numbers of cases in other states and complacency here could undermine those efforts.
In New York, 584 people were confirmed positive for the virus out of 65,564 tested Wednesday. That translates to 0.89% confirmed positives, according to state data released Thursday.
The level on Long Island was 0.9% and in New York City, 1.0%, according to the data. Those levels are among the lowest in the country.
"New York continues to make progress fighting COVID-19 through a smart, data-driven approach and the thoughtful actions of everyday citizens, who've been practicing social distancing, mask wearing and hand-washing," Cuomo said. "But the surge in new cases and hospitalizations throughout the country — and the potential for those people to bring the virus into New York — combined with the complacency we've seen in parts of our own state, is a potentially deadly mix. We need to stay vigilant and smart so we don't go back to the hell we experienced just two months ago. We are not out of the woods yet."
The latest number of new confirmed cases of coronavirus was 42 in Nassau County, 50 in Suffolk, and 275 in New York City.
The daily death toll from the virus statewide was 8, compared with nearly 800 a day at the peak of the pandemic in April.
"Our numbers continue to move in a positive direction as we work to rebuild our economy and recover from this crisis," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said, though he warned residents to "stay vigilant."
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran echoed Cuomo's concerns, even as Long Island entered Phase 4 of reopening Wednesday.
“This is a milestone we reached because our residents and our businesses are doing a fantastic job,” she said. “We are closely monitoring other states as coronavirus surges across far too many parts of our country. What’s happening in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona are concerning to us. We do not want to backtrack.”
The Archdiocese of New York said it is closing the 20 schools permanently as revenue shrinks amid the pandemic.
“The coronavirus public health crisis has had a devastating financial impact on Catholic school families and the greater Archdiocese,” the archdiocese said in statement.
Unemployment and health issues have hurt families’ ability to pay tuition, resulting in lower fall registration, the church said. In addition, canceled Masses and fundraisers for scholarships have decreased parish contributions that typically help support the schools.
“Too many have lost parents and grandparents to this insidious virus, and now thousands will not see their beloved school again,” Dolan said. “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 closings and mergers will affect 2,500 students and 350 staff members. The students can enroll at other Catholic schools, officials said.
If the federal government does not provide more financial help for private schools, Deegan said, he fears more Catholic schools in New York will close.
James Cultrara, co-chairman of the New York State Coalition for Independent & Religious Schools, said: "Parents continue to seek Catholic and other religious and independent school options for their children, but the closing of so many of these schools is clear evidence that tuition-paying families desperately need financial assistance that only their federal and state elected representatives can provide."
The archdiocese, which encompasses New York City and several counties to the north, has more than 60,000 students from pre-K through 12th grade at 191 schools.
The three Catholic schools closed in June on Long Island are Holy Family Regional School in Commack, Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson and Saint Peter of Alcantara Elementary School in Port Washington.
Across the New York City public school system, in-person attendance this fall could be as few as one day a week for some students — and as many as five days for others, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
As the city plans to reopen its 1,800 schools in September after being closed since March due to the pandemic, how often a student will be in school versus at home for online learning depends on the amount of space at the student's school, he said.
Most will be attending in-person two or three days per week, but “since there’s only five days in a week, you know, on some weeks, a kid might only be in school once a week, in other weeks twice a week. That’s for the most overcrowded schools," de Blasio said. "On the other end of the spectrum are the schools that are the least overcrowded. You have a scenario there, it is even conceivable in some schools that kids could be in school all five days in a week if there’s space. Remember, the crucial thing is the math here of social distancing.”
The average classroom is to be capped between 9 and 12 students, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said Wednesday.
Closing schools in the Archdiocese of New York:
- Corpus Christi School, Manhattan
- Divine Mercy School, New Windsor
- Holy Family School, New Rochelle
- Nativity of Our Blessed Lady School, the Bronx
- Our Lady of Mt. Carmel-St. Benedicta School, Staten Island
- Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, Pelham Manor
- Our Lady of Pompeii School, Manhattan
- Our Lady of the Assumption School, the Bronx
- Sacred Heart School, Suffern
- St. Ann School, Yonkers
- St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Shrub Oak
- St. John’s School, Kingsbridge, the Bronx
- St. Joseph-St. Thomas School, Staten Island
- St. Luke School, the Bronx
- St. Patrick School, Bedford
- St. Paul School, Yonkers
- St. Peter School, Poughkeepsie
- Sts. Peter & Paul School, Staten Island
- Sts. Philip & James School, the Bronx
- St. Thomas Aquinas School, the Bronx
- St. John School in Goshen will be joined by Sacred Heart School, Monroe, and St. Stephen-St. Edward School, Warwick
Source: Archdiocese of New York
Closing schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn:
- Queen of the Rosary in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
- St. Gregory the Great in Crown Heights/Flatbush, Brooklyn
- Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, Queens
- Our Lady of Grace in Howard Beach, Queens
- Holy Trinity Catholic Academy in Whitestone, Queens
- St. Mel’s Catholic Academy in Whitestone, Queens
Source: Diocese of Brooklyn