Archdiocese to Close Two Schools in D.C.

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 26, 2007

The Archdiocese of Washington announced yesterday that it would close two underenrolled Catholic elementary schools and transfer students elsewhere, a move that mirrors the school closure decisions of the D.C. school system.

St. Benedict the Moor, in the Kingman Park section of Northeast Washington, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help, with two campuses in Southeast, will not reopen in the fall. The two schools have a total of 278 students. The archdiocese originally proposed closing another school in the District, Holy Redeemer, with 224 students, but that campus, in the Mount Vernon Square section of Northwest, will remain open.

A school in Prince George's County, St. Margaret of Scotland, is still at risk but has a chance to avoid closing. Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl will decide its future in February, the archdiocese said. Enrollment at St. Margaret, which has 150 students, declined 42 percent in five years, and the Seat Pleasant school has a deficit of about $280,000. The parish pastor was given time to meet with the parish council to see whether it is possible financially to keep the school open, said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

All of the schools serve students in kindergarten through grade 8.

Students at St. Benedict will have the option of attending Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in the Hill East section of Southeast. Our Lady of Perpetual Help students can switch to Assumption, in the Congress Heights section of Southeast, or St. Thomas More, in the Washington Highlands section of Southeast.

The D.C. school system also has seen enrollment declines and is preparing for a second phase of school closures.

The Center City Consortium Board, which has responsibility for Catholic schools in the District, reviewed enrollment trends, financial data and comments from staff members and parents in considering school closures. Parents voiced their concerns at meetings late last year.

"It was emotional," said Thomas Burnford, the archdiocese's secretary for education. "People are attached to their schools and to their histories. But we know, in the long run, we're going to provide a great education for children in the future."

Elizabeth Turner, principal at St. Benedict, said that letters went home on Wednesday and that the news hit the tightknit community hard. The school would have celebrated its 45th anniversary next year. Students made a DVD of testimonials explaining what the school meant to them and why it should stay open.

For the rest of the year, Turner said, the staff would be focused on making each moment special for the children. "One teacher told me, 'We're going to go out in style,' " she said.

The news left Bridget Lambey, a parent and a teacher at St. Benedict, sad and hurt. She said she plans to send out résumés for a new teaching job. She and her husband, Gene, are choosing between St. Anthony and Holy Comforter for their 7-year-old son, Gene Lambey Jr., who is in second grade.

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