Catholic Schools Set to Reopen Despite DOE Delay

WINDSOR TERRACE — The Diocese of Brooklyn remains confident in its reopening plan as it gets ready to begin the new school year, Sept. 9.

As it stands, Catholic schools that share services from the Department of Education (DOE) — like nurses, transportation, meals, and special education and related services — will not be affected by the City’s delayed opening. The DOE was expected to fulfill its obligation in providing Catholic schools with these essential services upon the first day, as per New York City Education law, according to Brooklyn Diocese Superintendent of Schools Thomas Chadzutko.

St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy’s welcome board outlines the new health and safety measures community members need to take this school year. (Photo: Courtesy of St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy)

Jeanne Shannon, principal of St. Elizabeth Catholic Academy in Ozone Park, Queens, breathed a sigh of relief at the news. SECA’s grab-and-go breakfast program that runs through the DOE, for example, is important because about 50% of the school community is at or below the poverty line.

“I’m counting on it and my kids are counting on it,” Shannon told The Tablet. “For those families, it’s a great help to know that the children can come to school and get a nutritious breakfast.”

Two nurses will also be in SECA at all times, including one nurse who has been on staff for the last 15 years. This, Shannon noted, provides a level of comfort to her and her school community because the nurses already know the students.

“The breakfast program and the nurses are the most important services the City offers to us,” she continued. “I don’t have any kids that use school buses to come to our school, but I know there are some academies that do [use that service] and that would be important for their parents.”

Shannon said 130 of her 195 enrolled students will be coming back to the building this fall for in-person learning.

Most of the 66 Catholic schools and academies in Brooklyn and Queens will be operating under Plan A (100% in-person instruction) with the flexibility to move to Plan B (hybrid instruction) if COVID-19 cases arise.

Schools in Plans A and B have already undergone enhanced cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing protocols as The Tablet reported in mid-August. The Diocese’s St. Thomas Aquinas Distance Learning Program, which is Plan C, will begin orientation for its approximately enrolled 2,400 students on Sept. 16.

In terms of COVID-19 testing, Catholic schools across the Diocese will not require mandatory coronavirus testing for its students, staff, or teachers.

“If they would like to be tested, we will be providing them with available testing sites for their convenience, but we will not be doing random testing of anyone in our school communities,” Joan McMaster, associate superintendent for principal and teacher personnel for the Diocese, told Currents News.

Diocesan school members will follow the “core four” guidelines: Stay home if you are sick, social distance, wear a face covering, and practice healthy hand hygiene.

Meadow DiChiara and Shea DiChiara from Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy, Astoria. (Photo: Courtesy of the DiChiara Family.)

Meadow DiChiara from Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy, Astoria. (Photo: Courtesy of the DiChiara Family.)

Alessandra and Anthony Lodespoto from Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy, Astoria. (Photo: Courtesy of Michele Lodespoto.)

Alessandra Lodespoto from Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy, Astoria. (Photo: Courtesy of Michele Lodespoto.)

NYC Public Schools’ Delayed Reopening at the Last Minute

Though most New York City public schools were supposed to reopen with hybrid instruction on Sept. 10, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Sept. 1, that there would be a delayed start to allow educators extra time to prepare their classrooms and participate in additional training and orientations.

Remote-only instruction will be taught to all students in a transitional period from Sept. 16 to 18. Then, City school buildings will physically reopen at “full strength” on Sept. 21 for blended learning.

Ninety-six percent of classrooms have passed ventilation inspections as of Sept. 8, the Mayor tweeted — 10 of the 1,485 school buildings have been closed for improper ventilation systems and will receive necessary repairs.

“Keeping everyone safe is our top priority. Inspections by the DOE and the UFT identified these serious ventilation issues, and we will continue to monitor these buildings and other schools to make sure all ventilation problems are solved,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement on Sept. 7. “Where repairs and upgrades cannot be made, we will work with the DOE to help find alternative space before students return Sept 21.”

Mayor de Blasio also announced that a monthly medical monitoring program, governed by City health leaders, will take place within the City’s public school system. Beginning Oct. 1, all public schools will be required to test a random 10 to 20 percent sample of their in-house students and staff every month. Self-swab tests will be free and will happen off-site at third-party healthcare facilities, with results provided within 48 hours. Students will also need parental consent for tests to be conducted.

According to the UFT, any student who does not take the test will have to take their classes online. Additionally, any staff member who refuses to take the test will be placed on unpaid leave.

As of Sept. 1, 37 percent of the City’s 1.1 million public school students have already enrolled in remote learning this fall.