COVID-related financial strain shutters four Queens Catholic schools 1

Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy and three other diocese schools in Queens are closing, it was announced Thursday.

The Diocese of Brooklyn announced Thursday that four Catholic schools in Queens will permanently close for the upcoming school year.

The diocese blamed the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on enrollment for making it impossible for them to reopen. The trend is not a new phenomenon. Demographic shifts have also led to dwindling enrollment at many of the borough’s Catholic schools for years.

The schools include Our Lady’s Catholic Academy in South Ozone Park, Our Lady of Grace in Howard Beach, Holy Trinity Catholic Academy in Whitestone and St. Mel’s Catholic Academy in Whitestone.

“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. The difficult decisions come after the intense analysis of the financial picture of each academy,” said Thomas Chadzutko, superintendent of schools.

Together the shuttering schools have seen a decline of enrollment over the last five years, but the pandemic served as the last straw. The diocese said registration totals for the upcoming school year were down significantly, as a result of widespread unemployment. The Queens schools, together with two more closures in Brooklyn, have an outstanding $630,000 in tuition bills for the past school year.

Phyllis Inserillo, a pre-K teacher at OLGCA, posted to Facebook that despite the hard-fought battle of the administration to keep the doors open, the diminishing demand for Catholic education made it impossible for the school to weather the storm.

“We are so sorry to the families that are our family,” Inserillo said.

“I’m saddened for the parents, the students and the school administrators. This is not a positive step for the community,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), whose district encompasses Our Lady of Grace.

“In my time as state senator alone, the number of private Catholic school closures has been growing at an alarming rate. My concern now shifts, now that we’ve confirmed OLGCA is closing — what is the fate of that building? How does that building continue to serve the community?” said Addabbo.

To help families transition to other nearby Catholic institutions, the Diocese of Brooklyn will provide a one-time $500 financial grant for each child from a closed school enrolling and attending a new Catholic elementary academy or school in Brooklyn or Queens this fall through the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Trust.

Despite the closures, the Diocese of Brooklyn insisted that other parts of its education system remain resilient.

“Our smaller and caring community of schools has many advantages as witnessed by how quickly we adapted to remote learning this spring. 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,” Chadzutko said.

City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) issued a statement lamenting the closure of Holy Trinity Catholic Academy and St. Mel’s Catholic Academy, both of which fall within his district.

“I am saddened to learn the news that will permanently close this summer due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis. I am concerned to see educational options reduced during such challenging times for our borough and our city, which already suffered from overcrowded schools,” Vallone said.

For those who meet the financial eligibility, tuition assistance is available through Futures in Education at futuresineducation.org.

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