Parents upset that OLCS will close forever
rossing guard Linda Riffert stood at her corner last Wednesday afternoon patiently waiting for Our Lady of Charity School students to be dismissed for the day. Her mood was somber and Riffert knew attitudes of the children she would be crossing were no better.
“In addition to being a crossing guard, I also work at Charity as a lunchroom aide,” said Riffert. “The students were really sad today because their school is closing.”
The night before, at a hastily called meeting in the church hall, Mary Rochford, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told more than 100 parents that Our Lady of Charity School (OLCS) was definitely closing at the end of this school year.
Rochford suggested that OLCS students enroll at St. Joseph School in Aston. “I am, in no way, saying that there is not quality in the education going on here at (OLCS), because there certainly is,” said Rochford. “But, this school is not meeting the standards for a quality Catholic school and going forward with the low enrollment we are looking at right now, this school does not meet the criteria set at this time.”
Currently, the criteria set for class size by the Archdiocesan Office of Education is 25 students in kindergarten; 30 in grades one through three; and 35 in grades four and five. The set amount of students in a given school is 250.
During the 2010-2011 school year, there were 176 students enrolled at OLCS, and Rochford said only 98 pupils were registered for the 2011-2012 school year.
“We cannot run a school with 98 students,” said Rochford. “Somebody has to pay the bills; some class registrations for next year are in the single digits.”
The anger of parents was evident during the 90-minue meeting, from which several individuals exited in disgust. The main cause of discontent was the fact that after being told in November the school was closing, an announcement was made weeks later that the school would be open, and now, with only a few days remaining, the school community is being told once again that OLCS will close.
“We were held hostage,” said Cathy Bradley. “How, at the end of the year, can you do this? There are not many days left of school. We were told that we had one year to stay open. First we were closing, then staying open, now closing again.”
The very next morning, parent Judy Bush along with several others registered their children at Notre Dame de Lourdes School in Swarthmore.
“I went there first thing this morning,” Bush said. “The people at Notre Dame could not have been more kind and understanding. You know, the Charity kids are just so upset. The whole process has not been fair. This is so heartbreaking.”
Her daughter, Meghan, a sixth grader at OLCS, was upset to the point of tears and expressed concern for the school’s teaching staff. “I feel so bad for the teachers,” said Meghan. “Some of them are older and have been here for a long time. It will be hard for them to get jobs. I am so sad. I wanted to graduate with my class. I don’t understand why we weren’t given the chance to at least try and do fundraisers to help save our school.”
Riffert said she is “very frustrated” and feels that parents and students were lied to by the Archdiocese.
“I sent letters and e-mails to everybody, including the pope,” she said. “We also approached the pastor, Fr. (Brian) Izzo, in October and asked if we could do fundraisers and we were told to hold off.”
Riffert showed a letter of response she received dated Feb. 25, 2010 from the Most Rev. John McIntyre, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, which clearly states the school will be open for the 2011-2012 school year.
“Thank you for your concern for Catholic education and for your parish school,” the letter reads. “As you are aware, Our Lady of Charity School will remain open for the 2011-2012 school year as plans are made for the future of Catholic education in your area. I apologize for my delay in responding to your letter. I was waiting until a decision was made regarding your parish school for the upcoming academic year.”
Riffert said other parents received similar letters informing them the school would remain open.
Two days after OLCS parents were notified of the closing, St. Kevin School parents were presented with the same news.
“The only difference is that they were not lied to,” said one OLC parent who asked not to be identified. “They were not told verbally from the pulpit and in letters that their school would be open next year.”
A few parents mentioned the scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church and most recently, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, suggesting that funds which should be used for the education of children are being used to pay legal bills for priests who have been accused of molesting children.
“Of course, they have to close schools and there will be more closings to come,” said one grandparent. “They (the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) have too much money going out to pay for the defense of the priests who couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. This whole thing is just a damn shame.”