By Sabina Mollot
Shell-shocked parents and students at St. Brigid, a parish-run Catholic school across from Tompkins Square Park, have been doing hail Marys in the hopes of getting the Archdiocese to rethink a decision made last week to shutter the school and four others in the city.
On Sunday, parents, local elected officials and children making homemade signs gathered for a brain storming session and protest after mass, and one parent and school volunteer, Amanda Daloisio, insisted, “We’re not going down without a fight.”
Daloisio, who lives a block away from the school, said parents, on top of being heartbroken are also furious about the way the announcement was handled.
Daloisio said the principal was the first to be told on a Friday but was instructed not to tell anyone. She did share the news with teachers at an emergency meeting the following Monday, but they too were told to stay silent. Parents were then given notices in their children’s backpacks although curiously some students were told about it by the principal before their parents. Parents received an alert on their phones to be on the lookout for the letter.
“They told the middle school students at the end of the day,” said Daloisio. “So before I even saw (the letter), my son’s telling me, crying.”
She added that parents weren’t asked for any help before word of the decision got out. “You cannot claim you made your best efforts (to save the school) if you didn’t contact the community that would be most affected by your decision.”
Daloisio also said there has also been no information given on what’s happening with the remainder, if there is one, of the $20 million anonymous donation made a decade ago when the St. Brigid parish was in danger of closing.
“That is certainly the question,” she said. “There has not been transparency and accountability on how the money from the donation has been spent.”
She is now wondering if the school, like other church buildings in the neighborhood, will end up being turned into luxury condos.
Edwin Torres, who formed an organization with the church, told the New York Post that there should have been $2 million left of the donation.
When called for comment, the school said any questions would have to be directed to the Archdiocese, which has blamed the closure on dwindling enrollment. St. Brigid currently has 119 tuition-paying students, as well as a government-funded universal pre-K program.
But Joseph Zwilling, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese, said the closure, which is happening after this semester ends in June, wasn’t planned with the intention of selling off any real estate.
This, he said, would be a parish decision since it, not the Archdiocese, owns the property and “that conversation has not begun.”
Zwilling said there have been efforts to boost enrollment at the schools, including a scholarship fund and improvements made to the building, but instead attendance has only decreased. This has meant the K-8 school’s revenue has needed an annual subsidy from the Archdiocese of $850,000 in order to operate.
“The low enrollment is what’s causing the difficulty,” he said. “A full school can pay its bills.”
Zwilling added, “It could be the demographics (of the East Village). If the demographics have changed where there are fewer school-age children living in the community and other schools are ready, willing and able to St. Brigid students to their Catholic schools, it just becomes difficult to keep St. Brigid open. If we started to charge parents what it actually costs to keep the school open, they wouldn’t be able to pay it, and I’m not blaming them for that. It’s just the reality of the situation.”
The school has served primarily East Village students as well as a handful of Stuy Town and Lower East Side ones and, according to Daloisio, the children of alumni who no longer live in the area but want to keep ties to the church as well as the children of parents who work locally but live in the outer boroughs. Tuition is about $5,800 a year.
The school, on a new website for parents, is encouraging parents to send their children to other nearby Catholic schools, such as Immaculate Conception in the East Village, Guardian Angel in Chelsea and Transfiguration in Chinatown. But Daloisio said St. Brigid, despite being small, had a superior arts program, a highly competitive basketball team and a free after school program for middle-schoolers.
So, she said, the parents are going to keep fighting. “We’re hopeful,” she said, “but not naïve.”
Another St. Brigid parent, Stuyvesant Town resident Mary O’Halloran, said she doesn’t believe anything can change at this point and suspects the Archdiocese gave up on the school years ago. The reason, she said is that when she’d first enrolled her younger children (at one point four of her six) at the school, there were around 230 students. But numbers have gone down. She also noticed that a year or two before the last principal recently left and was since replaced by the Archdiocese, things that parents were told would be happening at the school or things that the school would be getting, weren’t materializing. She also, like Daloisio, said parents were never informed how dire the financial situation was. “No parents were made aware the numbers needed to go up.”
She was also annoyed at the fact that the handmade signs children had made on Sunday on colored paper and placed on the outside of the building were gone by Monday. She’d heard the Archdiocese had instructed the school to remove them.
As for where she’s going to send her children now, O’Halloran, who owns Mary O’s on Avenue A, said she isn’t sure. She already took two of her children out of the school, one because she felt the kindergarten opportunities were better at a local public school, The Children’s Workshop, and another because he seemed to be able to get better help for his dyslexia there. She left the other two children at St. Brigid.
“It would break their hearts if I took them from their friends,” she said. As far as next year is concerned, “I don’t know,” said O’Halloran. “But if I have to move them to the public school system, it’s not a big deal to me.”
Council Member Carlina Rivera, along with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, were at the event on Sunday and are requesting a meeting with the Archdiocese, a spokesperson for Rivera said, on the closure and the way communication was handled.
“This isn’t the first time St. Brigid School and its church were in danger, and she’ll support the community’s cry for answers,” the spokesperson, Jeremy Unger said. He added that while they hadn’t heard from the Archdiocese about marketing or selling the property, Rivera would also want to bring up the potential for this happening during the meeting.
“Councilwoman Rivera also believes this issue re-ignites a larger conversation around the sale and future usage of church-owned properties and whether those sites becoming luxury condos are in keeping with the Church’s social responsibilities to the communities it is leaving behind,” said Unger.