Protest against Brooklyn Catholic school closing

Parents, students and staff of St. Gregory The Great Catholic Academy protest the schools closing.
Photo by Kevin Williams

Students, parents and staff of St. Gregory The Great Catholic Academy staged a protest against the closing of their school in front of their school building on Sunday, July 12.

Melissa Campbell, president of the Home Academy Association (HAA) who organized the protest said the association was fighting to keep the academy open. She called on parents to assist in getting new students to register as one of the reasons given by the church was the decline in enrollment.

Campbell and the association are on a fundraising drive to raise $300,000 for the school and has started a GoFundMe project.

Mary-Lyn Buckley of News 12 (right) interviews Melissa Campbell, president of the Home Academy Association.                                                                                                                                                                 Photo by Kevin Williams

During the protest, former principal Rudolph Cyrus said he was disappointed and downhearted to hear about the school being closed. “I was never expecting the school to be closed especially at this time when we are in a crisis already and asking parents to come out and look for a new school for their children and that is unbecoming.”

“I don’t see the school not being viable based on the fact that I have only left a year now and based on the budget I had prepared. I know a revised budget would have had to be prepared based on the number of students who returned to school in September.  I think we should ask the principal and the accountant to give us an account of what happened in the last year so that we can see where the school has failed to collect,” said Cyrus. He suggested that following the accounting, a meeting should be held with the principal, board of directors of the school and the parents to channel a course forward including seeking funds from organizations.

Amanda Charles-Cyrus with her daughter Ariel protest the closure of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Academy on Church Avenue.                                                                                                                                    Photo by Kevin Williams

Meanwhile, Brooklyn Council Member Dr. Mathieu Eugene said on Friday that he was “saddened” by the closing of Catholic schools in New York City, including six schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, due to loss of revenue resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, suddenly throwing many devoted Caribbean teachers on the breadline.

“I believe that education is the best tool we can give to our children so that they are prepared to reach their full potential,” Eugene, who the predominantly Caribbean 40th Council District in Brooklyn, told Caribbean Life. “Education is not only a tool for success, but it also shapes the minds and mentality of human beings.

“I am saddened to learn that Catholic schools serving New York City, including sections of Brooklyn, will be forced to close their doors due to economic strains resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” added the first Haitian to be elected to New York City Council. “Our schools provide a sense of empowerment to the communities they serve, and the closing of any school can be a detriment to young people.

“These institutions of learning are so important for students and families from all walks of life and religious backgrounds, and I commend the leadership of the Brooklyn Diocese for helping students find alternative schools to enroll in,” Eugene continued.

“I believe it is essential that our society works together to find resources to save these schools, so that they can continue to prepare our young people to be the future leaders of our great city,” he said.

On Thursday, the Diocese of Brooklyn Office of the Superintendent – Catholic School Support Services announced that six Catholic academies, located in Brooklyn and Queens, will permanently close, effective Aug. 31, 2020.

“The devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis on enrollment and finances, an issue faced by many Catholic schools in the region and across the country, made it impossible for them to reopen for the coming school year,” said the diocese in a statement.

Past students Samantha Smith, Nicole Jordan and Nathasha Stoute lend their support.   Photo by Kevin Williams

It said the following Catholic academies will not reopen: 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; and St. Mel’s Catholic Academy in Flushing, Queens.

“Collectively, these schools have seen a decline of enrollment over the last five years, but the registration totals for the upcoming school year are down significantly, largely due to the massive unemployment and loss of business that has resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.

It said more than $630,000 in tuition bills for the past school year (2019-2020) remains outstanding at these schools.

“This is an incredibly sad day for our Catholic community to have to close these schools, but the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic is insurmountable,” said Thomas Chadzutko, Ed.D., superintendent of schools. “The difficult decisions come after the intense analysis of the financial picture of each academy.”

The diocese said every effort will be made to help transition affected students and families to nearby Catholic academies.

To help the transition, the Diocese of Brooklyn, through the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Trust, will provide a one-time $500 financial grant for each child from a closed school enrolling and attending in a new Catholic elementary academy or school in Brooklyn or Queens this fall, as long as they have met all of their financial obligations.

For those who meet the financial eligibility, the diocese said tuition assistance is available through Futures in Education (www.futuresineducation.org).

The diocese said online information meetings will begin this week for parents at the academies scheduled to close.

It said administrators and personnel from neighboring Catholic academies will be available virtually to present their programs and answer any questions parents may have.

Despite the closures, the Diocese of Brooklyn said there is “great optimism about the future of Catholic education in Brooklyn and Queens.”

“Our smaller and caring community of schools has many advantages as witnessed by how quickly we adapted to remote learning this spring,” Dr. Chadzutko said. “In grades K-8, we were nearly one to one, students to devices with data plans, an incredible feat which allowed for distance learning success in our schools.

“The learning went on in our schools for six hours a day, so our children knew that, even though they were separated, they were not alone,” he added. “Our devoted teachers and staff supported every child with the tools they needed to continue their education.

“We will continue to improve on this, so we can be ready to handle any challenge this coming fall,” Chadzutko assured.

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