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Public school students are flocking to Catholic schools amid pandemic


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John Burger - published on 10/24/20

In Boston, Catholic schools enroll 4,400 more students than last year.

This spring and summer, the coronavirus pandemic seemed to be dealing a death blow to a good number of Catholic schools. If educational institutions had to be shuttered, Catholic schools — already stretched financially — would have a hard time staying alive. In addition, closed churches meant lower donations in the collection basket, part of the financial support for parochial schools. 

But something changed over the summer, and now, many Catholic schools are thriving, in part because thousands of students in public schools — consigned to learning from home — are flocking to their Catholic counterparts, which have done their best to maintain in-class instruction. 

Now a report says that schools are not places of great coronavirus transmission. Though the findings are very preliminary and need to be thoroughly vetted, they might provide affirmation for Catholic school leaders who decided to keep classrooms open. 

“So far, schools do not seem to be stoking community transmission of the coronavirus, according to data emerging from random testing in the United States and Britain. Elementary schools especially seem to seed remarkably few infections,” says the New York Times. “The evidence is far from conclusive, and much of the research has been tarnished by flaws in data collection and analysis. School reopenings are very much a work in progress. Still, many experts are encouraged by the results to date.”

Brooke Nichols, an infectious disease modeler at the Boston University School of Public Health, told the newspaper, “The more and more data that I see, the more comfortable I am that children are not, in fact, driving transmission, especially in school settings.”

In fact, Thomas Carroll, superintendent of schools in the Archdiocese of Boston, said today that there have been only 26 COVID-19 positive test results among Catholic school students and teachers — each of which originated outside our school buildings. That’s out of 35,500 students, faculty and staff. He told Aleteia that not a single “close contact” of these 26 cases within the schools has has contracted COVID. “There is ZERO spread within our schools,” Carroll said.

Earlier in the week, in his Twitter feed, he acknowledged that COVID cases are on the rise generally. “But we will identify and quarantine — & follow all health protocols every day,” he said.

In mid-July, he and his team saw that there was great disappointment among parents after the three big teachers’ unions in Massachusetts said instruction in public schools should be fully remote after a three-week delayed opening. The Catholic schools administrators charted out how they could welcome children back to the classroom for live, in-person instruction five days a week.

“Our first priority is keeping our school communities safe,” said Mary Goslin, associate superintendent of government programs, who worked with vendors and school leaders during the preparation process. “Before they open, each school is advised to have three months’ worth of personal protection equipment and cleaning supplies at their location,” she said in August. “These school leaders, along with the nurses and facilities managers, have been working around the clock to develop plans, protocols, and strategies to keep their school communities safe this fall.”

Renewed interest

It’s been a benefit for Catholic school students and their parents. But another result has been renewed interest among the public in Catholic schools. In fact, Carroll announced in August, “If your school is hesitating about opening in the fall, seriously consider a Catholic school that offers live in-person instruction, a sense of community, and teachers who will love your children like their own — all in a safe, healthy environment with faith and respect.”

Initially, following the coronavirus shutdown in the spring, the Boston Archdiocese expected to see an enrollment reduction of 5,700 or more students from the previous academic year, leading to the closure of 12% of its schools. After mid-July, archdiocesan schools began enrolling hundreds of new students. By last week, enrollment has increased by over 4,400.

And it’s not just in Boston. Margaret Kaplow, spokeswoman for the National Catholic Educational Association, told the National Catholic Register that 80% to 85% of Catholic schools nationwide have reopened for in-person instruction five days a week — and many are seeing enrollment increases and waiting lists. Partnership Schools in Cleveland, for example, has seen a 36% rise in enrollment in some schools, and the consortium has had to hire extra staff.

The new enrollments mean yet another benefit. For the Catholic Church, Carroll told the Register, it’s a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expose people who have never been in a Catholic school before to its mission.”

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