Catholic schools in archdiocese advised to ‘pause’ two days next week to prepare for potential closures

| March 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

Update: Catholic schools in archdiocese will close on or by Wednesday, March 18.

Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are advised to close two days next week for school leaders and staffs to prepare for “the likelihood of broader school closure,” an archdiocesan official said March 14.

In an email to Catholic school leaders, Jason Slattery, the archdiocese’s director of Catholic education, said that “taking a pause” will let school leaders evaluate next steps.

He recommended schools take that pause Tuesday and Wednesday, March 17-18, but schools may choose different days based on their situation. The decision does not apply to schools on spring break or those that have already announced plans for closure.

“These are not ordinary times,” Slattery said in the email. “Our approach will not be perfect, but we will rely on the prevailing wisdom of public health officials and discernment of our own trusting in the help of God.”

Slattery praised school leaders for how they have managed changing circumstances, especially in the cases where public school closures have forced Catholic school closure because of shared transportation. Public school districts in the 12-county metro area have responded differently to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

“Over the last 48 hours, Catholic schools have been faced with the rolling decisions of public school districts to take days off this week for planning and preparation,” he said. “The decisions of the public school districts are necessitating the closure of Catholic schools in their boundaries largely due to transportation issues. Catholic school principals and pastors in these situations are managing the issues extremely well.”

He continued: “When the decision to close a Catholic school is largely necessitated by the decision of its local school district rather than by a larger unified approach, it begins to look like a ‘snow-day strategy’ for making decisions about canceling school. This haphazard approach, which is beyond the control of many local Catholic schools, is highly disruptive for families, students and teachers as they themselves also try to come to grips with the national emergency.”

School leaders “need to do what we can to act in a clear and predictable manner with families when approaching school closure,” Slattery said.

Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency for Minnesota March 13, but he did not close schools. State health leaders are discouraging gatherings of more than 250 people.

Slattery noted that the archdiocese’s recommendation that schools take days this week to plan for potential closure draws from guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said that one of the factors to consider for closing school is “allow[ing] time for further understanding of the local COVID-19 situation.”

“Many border states in the region, along with more than 80 (arch)dioceses (nearly 50% of Catholic dioceses in the United States) have studied these recommendations and have moved to close schools for varying durations,” he said.

“As a system, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis serves over 29,000 PreK-12 grade students across 12 counties and even more school districts,” he continued in the email. “When compared to public districts, as a system the archdiocese is the 4th largest in the State of Minnesota.  While nonpublic schools are not under the legal authority of the State of Minnesota, as neighbors and friends with public and nonpublic schools, in the service of the common good, we want to act in unison respecting the recommendations of the Minnesota Department of Health.”

St. Thomas Academy and Visitation School in Mendota Heights closed March 12-13 after a St. Thomas Academy student’s parent tested positive for COVID-19. The neighboring schools both closed because they share programs. Both schools were already scheduled to be closed this week for spring break.

Slattery said the archdiocese’s recommendation that schools take a two-day pause could change if the governor recommends public school closure. He advises parents to watch for communication from their local Catholic schools on plans to close for planning days.

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