Parents hunt for new schools after closure

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Jose Deleon thought he finally found a good fit for his fourth grader when he enrolled him at Our Lady of Angels this fall.

Now that Our Lady of Angels is slated to close, Mr. Deleon is deciding whether to start his son at Nicholas of Tolentine School, where he previously attended class, or to try sending him to public school.

Mr. Deleon said all the change has his son feeling like he’s on a roller coaster. “But there’s nothing I can do for him,” he said.

Families have been scrambling to register their children at nearby public and private schools since the archdiocese’s Northwest and South Bronx Board of Trustees announced it planned to close Our Lady of Angels after its graduation ceremony this June.

Some parents who were interviewed said were trying to gauge what other parochial schools’ enrollment will look like next year so that they could avoid both overcrowding and under enrollment.

They didn’t want to risk enrolling their children at schools where an influx of new students from Our Lady of Angels and other schools slated to close could lead to larger class sizes.

Nor did they want to enroll their children at schools with relatively low enrollment numbers, figuring that could lead to closure the same way it did for several school recently put on the chopping block by the archdiocese.

Msgr. John Jenik, a member of the Board of Trustees, said the organization planned to rely on St. Philip Neri. The school once educated about 800 students, but now educates about 250, which Msgr. Jenik noted left enough room for all 234 Our Lady of Angels students.

Space is more limited at the three other Catholic schools that Msgr. Jenik anticipated OLA students would be looking to attend.

Our Lady of Refuge School, where Msgr. Jenik works as the pastor, has about 285 students, which he said leaves room for 30 additional students. Nearly a dozen Our Lady of Angels families had picked up applications as of Feb. 7.

Visitation School’s roster of 185 can only handle a few more students, according to Msgr. Jenik. St. Nicholas of Tolentine School, which operates independently from the archdiocese, can accept up to 50 more students.

“Before we had plenty of schools,” Msgr. Jenik said. “You could wait as long as possible. But right now, there is an influx of possible students from the closed schools. So the pressure is really on.”

Msgr. Jenik said he didn’t expect many OLA families to enroll at St. Gabriel’s, St. Margaret of Cortona School or St. John’s School because the campuses were farther away. But, he said, the schools could collectively absorb about 200 more students.

The number of open seats at a given school will depend on how many students submit applications because most parochial schools will need 30 newly enrolled students in a single grade to justify hiring a teacher for a second class, Msgr. Jenik said.

Letecia Pineiro, who has a third-grade daughter and a sixth-grade son at Our Lady of Angels, said she wanted to send both of her children to St. John’s next year, but that the seventh grade was very tight. She said she was also considering St. Gabriel’s even though it is farther from her home.

Rebecca Leon, who has a son in kindergarten at Our Lady of Angels, said she signed him up for Our Lady of Refuge and registered him at AmPark Neighborhood School as a backup after learning that class sizes at St. John’s can contain up to 32 pupils. She said she knew classes typically had fewer than 30 students at Our Lady of Refuge because her daughter attended school there.

Each Catholic school sets its own class size limits, according to Msgr. Jenik.

St. Tolentine aims to limit class sizes to 35 pupils. St. Margaret’s Principal Hugh Keenan said his goal is to limit classes to 25 students. Other schools didn’t respond to questions about class size limits before press time.

Msgr. Jenik said the archdiocese will provide a bus to bring students from Our Lady of Angels, to St. Philip Neri and back again, beginning next school year. A second afternoon route will be offered to families with children who participate in after-school activities.

The archdiocese has pledged only to charge Our Lady of Angels parents 6 percent more than the tuition rates they currently pay if they enroll their children at other, more costly parochial schools.

Nearby Catholic school rates range from $3,250 to $6,443 annually for a first through eighth grade student who doesn’t belong to its parish, compared to Our Lady of Angels’ fee of $3,590.

Most parochial schools offer reduced rates for families with more than one child in the school as well as for parishioners of their churches.

But no discount could convince Ramesh Arjoon to send his fourth-grade daughter, Lakshmee Arjoon, to her fourth parochial school.

Mr. Arjoon said his family has given up on Catholic schools now that the archdiocese plans to close the third parochial school Lakshmee has attended. Next fall, she will go to PS 360 or PS 86.

“I don’t want to put her in a private school again and have it close down. Every year she has to make new friends,” Mr. Arjoon said.

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