Twenty Catholic schools across the five boroughs are closing. Now, some elected officials want the city to scoop up their space for public school students.
“When I became aware that a number of Catholic schools in New York City were closing due to financial issues, I immediately contacted senior DOE officials," said City Councilman Mark Treyger, chair of the education committee. "I am told that conversations are underway between the DOE and the Archdiocese about utilizing that space.”
The city’s public schools face a space crunch; coronavirus precautions mean maximum class sizes will be cut by more than half. Most students will have to learn in school and at home on alternate days.
Students in the most overcrowded schools may see the inside of a classroom just once a week.
Treyger and Councilman Ben Kallos have called on the city to explore leasing the soon-to-be vacant Catholic school space to help.
“This is the time for government to be stepping in and reopening these sites, whether as public schools in their own right or a distance learning center, or even for childcare," Kallos said.
It would not be the first time public schools took over parochial school space. Catholic schools for years have faced declining enrollment, leading to several rounds of closures.
The DOE has leased many of those buildings for new districts and charter schools.
“I have multiple former Archdiocese schools in my district which are now public schools and the best part about these locations is they're already schools,” Kallos said. “So in terms of what the city would need to do, we’d need to spend the next two months going in, looking at the ventilation and seeing what we can do to make these schools safe.”
But just as the pandemic and its economic fallout made this year’s round of Catholic school closures worse, it has also dealt a blow to the city budget, with school officials saying they need to ensure any moves are fiscally responsible.
"We're already in communication with the diocese and Archdiocese on potential space,” said Katie O'Hanlon, an education department spokeswoman. “We enjoy a great working relationship with our non-public partners and will share any updates as needed."
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, said they understand the city is interested in some buildings, but that there have been no discussions yet between the archdiocese and DOE regarding the schools they announced would close last week.
Zwilling said they have discussed three schools the Archdiocese announced would close in February, but "haven’t reached any agreements at this time."