Hispanics Cautious Over In-Person Classes

WINDSOR TERRACE — Though most schools and academies in the Diocese will start the school year under Plan A (100% in-person instruction), some schools are facing additional reopening challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Over 99 percent of students at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Academy, located in Corona, Queens, identify as Hispanic. This ethnic group has suffered more cases and deaths than any other group in New York City, accounting for 34 percent of deaths according to NYS Department of Health records as of Aug. 29. Corona was also the one-time epicenter of the pandemic, reaching nearly 5,100 positive cases and 446 deaths.

“It has had the effect of an atomic bomb. It’s been horrendous,” Father Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez, the new pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church, told Currents News.

“There was a point where every single day someone was dying and it hit us really hard,” said Dr. Cristina Cruz, OLSCA’s principal, in the same vein.

In the Brooklyn ZIP code 11208, which includes Cypress Hills, more than 2,715 cases and 250 deaths have been recorded since March. Blessed Sacrament Catholic Academy in Cypress Hills currently has 230 students enrolled and is about 85 percent Hispanic. The pandemic has affected enrollment, according to BSCA Principal Marylou Celmer, who noted that their enrollment numbers usually hover between 265 and 270 students.

“In our area, we did have a number of students’ grandparents pass away. I think the pandemic put the fear in a lot of parents to not to send them back in-house and they’re afraid,” Celmer explained. “We have made a lot of accommodations within the school and divided classes up. We now have two kindergartens, two fifth grades, two sixth grades, two seventh grades, and two eighth grades.”

In the City’s public schools, 304,880 students will be participating in remote learning this year with Hispanics making up the majority at 37 percent. Blessed Sacrament plans to physically reopen at 100 percent capacity for in-person learning. Celmer said 52 students have opted to attend the St. Thomas Aquinas Distance Learning Catholic Academy, but they will still be enrolled as Blessed Sacrament students.

OLSCA will physically reopen on Sept. 10 under Plan B (hybrid instruction) with 54 percent of the students learning in school and 46 percent learning online.

Though Dr. Cruz noted that enrollment has declined this academic year (now at 240 students), she knows her students and families exemplify resiliency.

“Many families have left. They have literally left the state of New York,” she said. “We were on a great path and COVID kind of knocked us off but we’ll get back, we’re going to make it. You’ll see, mark my words.”