Yesterday’s announcement that the Archdiocese of Newark is closing 8 more Catholic schools, on top of the 10 which were already announced and the state’s total of 27 Catholic schools which will permanently close serves as a stark reminder that these are perilous times for Catholic schools. Over 100 Catholic schools have announced permanent closure since March 1st and 142 total schools will not reopen for 2020-21. (See list here)
Principals, pastors, superintendents, and bishops are worried. But we need to be careful not to let that anxiety about keeping our schools open dictate our decisions. After all, if we’re placing the future of our institutions before safety, we could lost a lot more than our budget target.
Most of our Catholic schools have pushed hard to reopen face-to-face for a variety of reasons—student mental health, parent demands, dissatisfaction with remote learning, etc. All these reasons are legitimate. But I’ve also heard school leaders say, “If we go remote, we’re not going to be able to hang on to our tuition-paying parents.” I worry that the desire to keep a school open and all that entails (to keep the staff employed, to make budgets, to not sink the parish or diocese) might have taken precedence.
Yes, I know that Catholic schools have a business aspect and we need to pay attention to the bottom line. But we are in the business of educating and loving young people which isn’t the same as a pizza parlor or convenience store. And we need adults to run schools. If we aren’t taking care of them, how will we accomplish our mission?
Here’s a thought exercise. If the government guaranteed your budget this year if you would conduct only remote learning—would you accept that offer? If you said yes then you need to examine how much institutional success is influencing your decision.
There is so much we don’t know about the Coronavirus—namely how rapidly it will spread in a school, how much risk there is to students long-term, and how much risk to our teachers and families are inherent in face-to-face instruction. As we get closer to opening day, the anxiety level of our parents is growing.
I worry that in our rush to return to normalcy, we have prioritized institutional bottom line. If we see an outbreak in the second week, for example, might we lose all credibility and lose students permanently? Let’s take this slowly and deliberately and make sure we’re prioritizing safety and health of all of our community members. And take a look at the Value Proposition for Catholic schools during Uncertainty for ideas on how to address the present-day challenges.