Chanting “Save Our School” and holding their signs high, students, parents, family and alumni gathered Saturday morning to protest the decision to close the Catholic school.
This past Tuesday, the Diocese of Rockville Centre to close the Sayville-based school this coming June because of declining enrollment. Six other Catholic schools across Long Island are also slated for closure at the end of the 2011-12 school year because of declining enrollment and other issues, the Diocese said.
are hopeful that the rally held outside the school is the first step in reversing the decision to close the Sayville Catholic school.
“We need to get the word out,” said Anthony Cantanese, a Sayville parent with two children at Prince of Peace. “We will be out here with our signs in March if that’s what it takes to keep the school open. We have a lot of pride in our school and they can’t take that away from us. Through protest and through prayer, we will be here to stay.”
Jeanne Opalinski, an Oakdale resident and parent of a fourth grader, said, "I’m just very sad about this. My daughter has been here since nursery school. We are like a close knit family and I don’t want that to change.”
Cantanese feels the statistics offered by the Diocese do not support the decision to close the school.
“There are buildings in our area that are in worse shape than ours. Prince of Peace is being closed because of its geographic location,” he added.
Jerry Noone of Blue Point, parent of a third grader and seventh grader, echoed the sentiment.
“This school has been around for a really long time and there’s just no reason for closing it,” he said. “There are schools in worse financial shape. I think there was a distinct lack of impartiality in making this decision. We are hoping this protest is the first step and after this, we will consolidate our efforts and keep moving forward.”
Enrollment numbers for the school are down 24 percent over the past 10 years, from 179 students in 2001 to 136 students in 2011. But that drop in enrollment doesn’t compare to the decline in enrollment in surrounding schools, parents say. What’s more, there are more than 200 students enrolled at Prince of Peace if the nursery school and pre-K students are factored in.
Eight years ago, Prince of Peace was at risk of closure and it was the parents who rallied the financial support to keep it operational.
“Eight years ago, the school troubles were dumped in the laps of the parents and we were told to fix it. We made a five-year plan and we fixed it and we got this school healthy again,” said Susan Connolly of Sayville, who had three children come through the school.
In the beginning of the year, Connolly said parents were told every school was on the table, and a study was being done by the Diocese.
“If this is a clear decision, where is the study?” she asked. “The Diocese conducted this study and we were told to keep quiet and wait. We did what we were asked to do. Now I feel like we got kicked in the teeth. The shrouding of secrecy is what upsets me the most. This school graduates kids at the top of their academic game.”
“The parents have not been given any hard statistics,” Cantanese added. “All of this was done behind closed doors.”