For over a year, students at the St. Ferdinand Catholic School in the City of San Fernando have faced disruptions brought on by the pandemic, adjusting to online learning and being away from classmates and teachers.
But now parents face a much bigger problem for their children: the 91-year-old school, where generations upon generations have received a Catholic education, has decided to shut its doors this June, the end of the 2020-21 school year.
A statement from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles attributes the decision to a “continued decline in enrollment and a growing financial deficit, even before the financial impact of the pandemic” and that it would make operations “unsustainable.”
The Archdiocese added it seeks to combine St. Ferdinand students with other nearby Catholic schools including St. Didacus School in Sylmar, that “are ready to welcome students for the incoming school year.” It also stated it would help families enroll their children in those schools and find placement for staff in those institutions as well.
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol tried to contact the Santa Rosa de Lima School in San Fernando on whether it would also be able to absorb St. Ferdinand students, but neither calls nor emails seeking comment were returned by press time.
“We understand that it is hard for our families to undergo this transition during this time, but it was in the best interest of our students to take these steps now to prevent any negative impact on the school with so many uncertainties due to the pandemic,” according to the statement.
But while public schools are working hard to get students back into the classroom and re-growing enrollment, St. Ferdinand is instead making plans to shut its doors.
The Archdoicese’s announcement has propelled parents to take action. They have launched a petition on Change.org hoping to save the school from closure, and are also looking for support from the City of San Fernando and other local officials.
“I Feel Blindsided”
The parents said they want the Archdiocese to give them more time. They want to recruit more families to enroll and try to reverse the situation.
“I feel blindsided,” said Gina Franco, whose three children have all attended the school, including her 12-year-old son Jacob, who is currently in the seventh grade.
Before the pandemic, Franco said classes averaged between 16 and 20 students. Her son’s seventh grade class currently has eight students.
Last month, the school gave parents the option to return their children back to the in-person classroom instruction.
“I was not aware of how dire the situation was,” Franco adds, but does recognize many families have left the school due to the pandemic.
“A lot of parents chose to leave for financial reasons, because they’re paying for a private school environment, but not getting it.”
The closure announcement has left her son confused and uncertain about his future, Franco said. “We had the disruption with the pandemic and now the disruption of possibly closing the school. We don’t want to disrupt our kids anymore.”
Sheila Rodriguez, an alumna from the class of 2003, also pushed for St. Ferdinand to keep its doors open on the petition.
“I received an exceptional education at St. Ferdinand and grew up in a loving and caring environment that was instilled by the faculty and staff. The St. Ferdinand community is like family,” she wrote.
Another resident, Adriana Acevedo, wrote, “My niece recently started there about 2-3 years ago and she’s loved her time there. I’d hate for her to have to go and most likely split up from her friends there. This school deserves so much better.”
The petition created by Yadira Cruz Granado asks the Archdiocese to keep the school open and make some adjustments if necessary, including raising tuition or pairing different grade levels.
It notes that in May 2020, the school revised its budget for the 2021 school year and there was no mention about a closure.
“We ask for an opportunity to continue with the fundraising efforts from the past to help our school,” the petition states.
Franco said she intends to apply at nearby Catholic schools, but hopes those facilities allow them to register without charging them while they make an effort to save St. Ferdinand.
The school needs between $300,000 and $400,000 to remain open, Franco said.
“To do this during the pandemic, when our kids have been disrupted so much already, I feel we should have been given a little more time. It’s bad timing,” she said.
Other Schools Closed or Facing Closure
St. Ferdinand is not the only Catholic school facing closure. Other institutions across Los Angeles County have experienced dropping enrollment and are shutting their doors.
St. John Paul II STEM Academy in Burbank, St. Anthony of El Segundo and All Saints of El Sereno elementary schools closed this school year.
Besides St. Ferdinand, St. Catherine of Sienna School in Reseda, Assumption School in Los Angeles, Blessed Sacrament School in Hollywood, St. Francis of Assisi School in Los Angeles and St. Madeleine School in Pomona will close at the end of the school year.
Resurrection elementary school in Boyle Heights, Our Lady of the Rosary in Paramount and St. Maria Goretti in Long Beach have launched GoFundMe campaigns in an effort to stay open.
The financial strain and fundraising efforts canceled due to the pandemic are partly to blame for the schools’ dire straits. But there’s also been a steady drop in enrollment in recent years.
More than 7,000 students (about 10%) of the total enrollment in the 262 Catholic schools left their schools in the fall. This on top of 3% drops in the previous two school years.
Not Giving Up
Despite all these challenges, the parents at St. Ferdinand said they are not giving up.
“People should be putting pressure on the Archdiocese to not close the school and give us one or two years to build the enrollment,” said Franco who — along with others — is also seeking out donors and searching for other ways to avoid the shutdown.
She said she’s doing this for her son, but also for other kids and the generations to follow. Closing a school that has taught so many generations is simply unfathomable for her.
“You can’t turn your back on 90 years,” Franco said.