St. Stephen’s – St. Edward’s Elementary School may close forever

Warwick. Parents vow to fight Archdiocese decision to merge three Catholic schools in Orange County.

13 Jul 2020 | 04:20

As a result of the corona virus pandemic, when and if any schools, public or parochial, in New York would reopen this fall was still a question.

But last week, the parents of children attending St. Stephen’s – St. Edward’s Elementary School in Warwick received an email from the Archdiocese of New York that no one ever expected.

Michael J. Deegan, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York, informed the parents that in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis 20 schools of the Archdiocese will be closing and three will be merging.

He explained that St. Stephen’s - St. Edward’s was one of the three schools in Orange County that will be merging and that this September, it will join Sacred Heart in Monroe to merge with St. John School on its campus in Goshen.

“The closing of St. Stephen’s came as a total shock,” said Casey Yazdani, president of the St. Stephen’s Home School Association (HSA). “We left the school year proud to have met our fund-raising goal, kept our enrollment steady for 2020-2, and to have taken care of any unpaid tuition with the assistance of the Educational Trust, all through a pandemic and shutdown. To hear that they were closing our campus and moving us to a smaller campus left us confused and frustrated.”

‘How can they justify the closure?’

She added that it was difficult to understand how, given the many upgrades and amenities the school has, in a thriving community full of support, on a beautiful, spacious campus with a Pre-K building onsite, why the Archdiocese would close this campus and move St. Stephen’s to an older, smaller, location with none of the latest educational upgrades that parents have worked to provide for St. Stephen’s over the last 10 years

“When you compare the two locations, and take into account that our enrollment was steady - even probably higher than last year and our agreed upon debts were cleared,” said Yazdani, “how can they justify the closure?”

Her point is well taken since in addition to its advanced education and enrichment programs, the school had much to offer students, including a new Collaborative Learning Center/Library with STEM activity kits, a SmartBoard in each classroom, a variety of desk and seating options for group collaboration and work, an upgraded state-of-the-art network infrastructure with Wi-Fi, along with a new cafeteria and library, a computer for each student, Spanish classes for pre-K through 8th grade, a Science Lab with lab seating and a musical theater program.

Pam Rogers, vice president of the Home School Association, is an alumni of the school, class of 1982, and the mother of an incoming seventh grader.

“We are heartbroken at this news,” she said. “As parents of St Stephen St Edward students we spent years advancing the curriculum and amenities for our children and to have it ripped away without warning is despicable.”

Rogers reported that the enrollment numbers, 144 for the 2019-20 school year and 140 thus far but expected to increase for next year were in line and that St. Stephen’s has never been unable to meet the monetary fund-raising amount requested by the Archdiocese.

Broken hearts

The closure has also impacted the lives and careers of the teachers who will miss their students, families and colleagues.

Although many of the parents questioned the role of the parish in this decision, St. Stephen -St. Edward School has not been officially affiliated with St. Stephen’s Parish since it was made a regional school in 2013.

Since then, the New York Archdiocese has governed its operations as well as that of other Catholic elementary schools in the region, including tuition. (Tuition would have been $5,975 at St. Stephen’s for one child with reduced tuition for more than one child. Tuition at St. John’s in Goshen would be the same.)

As a result the pastors and members of their staff have had no authority in a school’s governance including finance, hiring or any other decisions concerning the schools.

Under that arrangement, the Rev. Jack Arlotta, pastor of the Church of St. Stephen, the First Martyr, was simply informed of this decision in an email from the Archdiocese on Thursday, July 2, with instructions that the information was to be confidential until the announcement.

“As your pastor and as a former educator,” he stated, “my heart breaks to see your pain at this unusual time. I share in that pain and I am ready to help you deal with this cross that has unexpectedly been placed on all of our shoulders today even as we are still dealing with the pandemic crisis.”

St. Stephen’s – St. Edward’s has been a part of the Town of Warwick since 1965.

“It is with great sadness that we have learned St Stephen’s-St Edward’s School will not reopen,” said Supervisor Michael Sweeton. “This school has provided an exceptional educational experience to many of our young people for so many years. The academic and spiritual education this school offered will not be easily replaced.”

As of this writing, the parents, whose children attend St. Stephen’s – St. Edward’s school, are planning to join with those at Sacred Heart in Monroe to fight the merger.

Superintendent of Schools addresses false rumors
Dr. David Leach, the superintendent of schools for the Warwick Valley School District, issued the following statement July 10:
Yesterday, our community was saddened to learn that the St. Stephen-St. Edward School will not reopen for the 2020-21 school year. This news was painful for many, and we send our best wishes to the school’s students, families and staff.
We know too well the hurt and disappointment a school closure causes in a community. With that said, I must dispel two false rumors about this news circulating on social media.
The school district and church leaders never discussed renting the St. Steven-St. Edward School before yesterday’s announcement. After receiving telephone calls today about this rumor, I spoke with Father Jack to discuss the situation. Father Jack confirmed that St. Steven-St. Edward School was not available to rent.
This afternoon, it was also brought to my attention that an online petition is now circulating, claiming the closure of St. Stephen-St. Edward School will financially burden Warwick Valley Central Schools, citing a total cost of almost $4 million.
This claim is also false. Last year, about 63 students, who reside within the Warwick Valley CSD, spanning grades K–8, attended St. Stephen-St. Edward School. If these children enroll in our schools next year, this minor increase in student enrollment poses no significant financial burden on the district.
As we prepare to reopen our schools, please anticipate us sharing more information directly with you. While the use of social media platforms offers many benefits, it continues to be a challenge for us all when inaccurate information spreads quickly, often not verified or fact-checked.