While many students across the country are celebrating Catholic Schools Week, the pupils and parents at Corpus Christi School in Woodside say they’re far from feeling festive.
In fact, they’re gearing up for a fight.
The Diocese of Brooklyn, which runs Catholic schools in Queens, announced earlier this month that it plans to shutter Corpus Christi, a Catholic school that educates about 170 students in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, due to rising debt and low enrollment. While a spokeswoman for the diocese said the school will close after the academic year ends in June, parents and students said they plan to battle the move to ax a school they call a godsend.
“We’re fighting for our children, our students, and our faculty who’ve gone above and beyond to teach our kids,” said Michelle Chaves-Diaz, a Jackson Heights resident whose son attends the school at 31-30 61 St. “We’re using this as a lesson for our kids, that you can change things. We’re not going to lay down and let them do whatever they want to us.”
Stefanie Gutierrez, the press secretary for the Diocese of Brooklyn, said the school faces a $73,000 deficit this year and that the church can no longer afford to run the institution.
“The main focus right now of the superintendent of schools office and the administration of the school is to care for the children,” Gutierrez said.
“There are plans underway for transitional assistance to neighborhood Catholic schools in the area,” she continued.
Gutierrez said there are no plans for what will replace the school, though parents said they’ve heard rumors that a charter school could operate there.
To battle the closure, students said they’re raising money for the school and parents said they plan to hold events to raise awareness about the institution’s importance, such as rallies.
“Nobody wants to go to another school,” said Frank Caisagno, an eighth grader at Corpus Christi. “We’re family here. If you have to go somewhere else, you’ll feel shy and scared because you don’t know anyone.”
Allyson Vasquez, also in eighth grade, said she was relieved to begin attending Corpus Christi earlier this year.
“When you come here, you don’t feel like the new kid like you do at other schools,” said Vasquez, who has been soliciting donations from area companies. “Instead of no one wanting to talk to you, everyone comes up to you and includes you.”
Corpus Christi graduates said they’d be devastated if the school closed.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Beatrice Almazan, 14, of Woodside. “It was our second home. I was here all my life until I graduated, and I come back all the time. My parents are close to the teachers; I’m close to the teachers. It’s so important to us that it stays open.”
Many parents said they believe the diocese has set its sights on shuttering their school, no matter what the community does to save it.
“Every time the diocese would say the school needed to do something to remain open, the principal would meet it and exceed it, but then the rules would change and the diocese would say the school needed to do something else,” said Chaves-Diaz. “We’ve revamped our education system, and we had been increasing in enrollment, but then the diocese replaced our pastor. We haven’t had a pastor since August. With him gone, a lot of students left because parents thought if there was no pastor, what was going to happen to the school?”
The diocese did not respond to this specific complaint.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said he’s attempting to speak with the diocese to discuss the situation.
“We have a limited ability to impact the situation, but we’ve reached out to the diocese to attempt to engage them in some discussion about the future of the school,” Van Bramer said.
Numerous Catholic schools have closed in western Queens in recent years, and the diocese also recently announced that it plans to shutter St. Raphael’s, an elementary school in Long Island City.