Several parents whose children attend St. Ferdinand Catholic School in the City of San Fernando said they have sent emails to Regional Auxiliary Bishop Alejandro Aclan, head of the San Fernando Pastoral Region, to try to get answers to the proposed closure of the campus in June, the end of the 2020-21 school year.
They are not getting answers, the parents said.
“We have had no responses from the bishop’s office,” said Gina Franco, who has a child in the seventh grade and has been organizing other parents to try and avoid the closing of a school that has offered a Catholic education for 91 years in San Fernando.
The parents are doing what they can to raise awareness about the issue, gain support, and are attempting to raise $400,000 through a GoFundMe (https://bit.ly/3uDnQEr) account to prevent the shutdown.
At press time, less than $3,000 had been raised. If the goal is not met by the end of the school year, the account is considered invalid and the money would be returned to those who made donations.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced in a statement on April 2 that St. Ferdinand and five other Catholic schools — including St. Catherine of Sienna School in Reseda — would close at the end of the school year, citing 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.”
On Sunday, April 11, some 20 parents and their children were at the St Ferdinand campus holding signs, marching around, and protesting the shutdown.
Among them were Cristina and Charlie Norton, parents of fifth-grader Stephen and third-grader Sophia. Charlie said his 90-year-old grandmother had attended St. Ferdinand, and so did her nine kids.
“For us it’s a second home in a lot of ways,” Charlie said, adding he and his wife were married at the church, and their children were baptized there.
The possibility that their children would not continue attending school there fills them with sadness. Charlie said closing the school “would negatively impact” the community.
He said he simply wants to know how the decision for the school closure came about.
“I wish we would have had a better chance of saving our school,” Charlie said. He admitted that he and Cristina are “already looking” to move their kids to St. John Baptist De La Salle in Granada Hills when the school year ends.
“I think it’s very unlikely that we can stop the closure. You think it’s not going to happen, but here we are,” he said, with a tinge of sadness.
The issue is also personal to Priscilla Solis, another St. Ferdinand’s alumna, whose 5-year-old daughter Leilah attends the kindergarten.
“I want to see if this school can be saved,” said Solis, whose 86-year-old godfather was one of the first graduates at the school, and whose mother also worked there.
“I want my daughter to continue that tradition,” she said.
Decision is “Final”
But that tradition will come to an end.
Adrian Marquez Alarcon, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that while they sympathize with the concerns of parents and their efforts to keep the school open, “the decision is final” even if the parents reached the fundraising goal.
“[The decision] was not made lightly or suddenly, but after much consideration and discernment and out of genuine concern for students, teachers, and staff,” Alarcon said.
“We are grateful for the sacrifices and support of our families and school community over the years to try to address the difficulties facing the school. Unfortunately, the school cannot maintain the same quality of education for which it is known with current enrollment and a growing operating deficit of more than $350,000 per year even under the best circumstances.”
Alarcon said that St. Ferdinand had experienced a 46% decrease in enrollment this past school year, “the sharpest decline in the Archdiocese.” She also said that, as seen in past financial reports, the parish has been subsidizing the school.
“The Archdiocese has also provided financial assistance to cover salaries and benefits throughout this year. It was just not going to be possible to continue to operate without negatively impacting school programs, the school’s ability to provide financial assistance to families in need, and employment for teachers and staff,” she noted in a statement.
Alarcon added that the six facilities scheduled to be closed at the end of the school year would continue to be owned by the parishes, and there currently are no plans to sell the land.
“The facilities will be assessed and a determination of use will be made after the end of the school year,” Alarcon said.
Solis wants her daughters to continue receiving a Catholic education because she loves the small community atmosphere and the small classes. But, she said, she can’t help feeling that the decision to close the school was made without giving parents a chance to act.
“It was just [told to us] in a parent meeting, rather nonchalant,” Solis said. “As parents, we do feel betrayed.”