2006-03-31 / Front Page

St. Virgilius School Back Under The Ax

School Short Students At Deadline; Scramble To Fill Seats
By Howard Schwach


More than 250 parents and community supporters gathered in front of the St. Virgilius School in Broad Channel on Wednesday evening to protest the announcement that the diocese would close the school should the enrollment of the school not rise by April 1.More than 250 parents and community supporters gathered in front of the St. Virgilius School in Broad Channel on Wednesday evening to protest the announcement that the diocese would close the school should the enrollment of the school not rise by April 1. By the time you read this, the Brooklyn Diocese may have padlocked the doors of the St. Virgilius School in Broad Channel because it did not meet its business plan by enrolling 113 students.

On the other hand, the school may still be open with its 86 students sitting obediently in their seats.

The only entity that knows for sure, the Brooklyn Diocese, is not talking, at least not to The Wave.

On Thursday, Frank DeRosa, the long-time spokesperson for the Diocese was away from his desk and not available for comment. Others in his office declined comment, stating that they had no knowledge of the St. Virgilius closing.

St. Virgilius parents have been similarly shut off by the diocese and are unsure of their children's future.

On Wednesday night, 250 parents and community supporters gathered in front of the wooden building that houses the school to show their desire to keep the school open.

"Save St. Virgilius, Keep it open," they chanted as they carried signs proclaiming their love for the school.

Parent activists have asked the diocese for a 30-day extension to get the school's enrollment up to the promised level and a three-year moratorium on threats of closing.

"It is difficult to get new students from other communities when the diocese is continually threatening to close the school," says Anne Marie Sullivan, a parent leader. "When they put a cloud over your head, you're not going to get kids to come to this wonderful school."

Sullivan says that money is not the problem, the enrollment is.

"We raised $153,000 in six weeks, more than the diocese said we had to raise," she said. "Our business plan calls for 113 students and we have, as of today, only 86, but they have tied our hands and put us under a cloud, restricting the number of students we could recruit in that short period of time."

"Getting 113 students is doable," Sullivan added. "They just have to give us a chance and take the cloud away for a period of time."

Parents charge that the committee that worked hard to come up with a business plan that was accepted by the diocese in March of last year was disbanded shortly thereafter, replaced by an advisory committee made up of people appointed by the diocese.

Parents charge that the committee was refused permission to take parent input, advertise for students, fundraise and start a pre-k program that would have drawn students from neighboring communities.

"If we couldn't do what they asked, I could understand them closing us down," Kim O'Reilly, another parent leader said. "We raised the money and we are moving towards 113 students. They have to give us a chance and right now we're focused solely on keeping the building open."

One Broad Channel civic leader, who asked not to be identified, said there might be a deeper reason for the closing.

"The church and the school own some large pieces of land here in the channel," he said. "Those properties might be more valuable to the diocese as condos or homes."

Representatives of Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, Congressman Anthony Weiner and City Councilman Joseph Addabbo were all present at the rally to lend their support to the parents. Democratic District Leader Lew Simon was there as well.

In a letter to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, Addabbo argued that the "uniqueness of the geographic location of the school and its support by the community" demands that the school be kept open.

He asked the Bishop to give the school until June 30 to get the number of students to the promised level.

"It is difficult to ask a parent to register a child for school by March 30 if they are led to believe the school will be closed," Addabbo wrote.

Parents at the rally seemed evenly split about what they would do should the school close its doors on Friday or Monday.

About half of those queried said that they would move to the local public school, PS 47, to register their children.

While there is some question about how many seats are available at that school, public schools must, by law, provide a seat for any student who wants one, even if that means providing buses to another local school.

The other half says that public schools are not an option, that they would enroll their children in parochial schools either in Rockaway or in Howard Beach.

All of them, however, prayed that St. Virgilius could be kept open, at least for the remainder of the school year.

"Our leaders are closing churches and schools like crazy," Kim O'Reilly said. "We have to keep this little, wonderful wooden church and school in Broad Channel. This is a kick in the teeth to the parents and it will affect my child for the rest of his life."

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