WINDSOR TERRACE — One of the many phone calls that Msgr. David Cassato received on the day schools and academies in the Diocese of Brooklyn opened this year was from the mother of a student at St. Helen Catholic Academy in Howard Beach.
“She told me how happy she was to see her child in school again and how grateful she was that our Catholic schools are open,” said Msgr. Cassato, vicar for Catholic Schools in Brooklyn and Queens.
In New York City, all public and private schools had been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools instituted remote learning models in which students worked at home on computers.
With infection rates decreasing in the city, the diocese decided it was safe to reopen and selected Sept. 9 as the big day.
Msgr. Cassato, who was appointed vicar for Catholic Schools by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio in July, said he was pleased with how the opening of schools proceeded. “Everything went very smoothly,” he told The Tablet.
Msgr. Cassato spent most of the day at St. Athanasius Catholic Academy in Bensonhurst touring classrooms and talking to students, parents, and teachers. He is the pastor of St. Athanasius – St. Dominic Parish.
While staying close to his home base, he kept in frequent touch throughout the day with Dr. Thomas Chadzutko, superintendent of schools, and Joseph Esposito, former commissioner of the New York City Office of Emergency Management.
Esposito, who headed a previous task force that worked with Bishop DiMarzio on plans to reopen churches, advised the diocese on how to reopen schools safely.
Unlike the New York City Department of Education, which postponed school openings from Sept. 10 to Sept. 21, the Diocese of Brooklyn and the Office of the Superintendent welcomed back students to their 66 schools and academies on schedule.
“We had to open up our schools,” Msgr. Cassato said. “Children need to be in a classroom. They need to be around other children. And they need their teacher right there in the same room with them.”
In-person instruction is beneficial to children psychologically as well as academically, according to Msgr. Cassato. “It’s the best thing for them,” he said.
The vast majority of schools in the diocese — 90 percent — are opting for full-time in-person instruction. Ten percent will offer a hybrid of both in-person and remote learning.
The safety measures that have been put in place, including hand sanitizers, temperature checks, and plastic barriers on desks, should reassure parents that their children are in a safe environment, Msgr. Cassato said. “I would tell parents to come and see. Come to our schools and see what we’re doing. You’ll be pleased,” he added.