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Catholic schools in trouble - Five in Brooklyn could face shut down this June

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Even if a plan to turn some Catholic schools into publicly funded charter schools becomes a reality, the Diocese of Brooklyn would want to continue teaching religion – but not touch sex education.

According to Bishop Frank Caggiano, vicar general to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the diocese plans to explore the possibility of “putting in legislation that could, in the future, fit part of the strategic goals of preserving the vision.”

When asked point-blank if that meant teaching Catholicism, Caggiano said, “yes.”

If attempts were made to allow religious instruction, the diocese would likely face a fight. That’s because charter schools are considered public schools and must abide by separation of church and state laws.

The mayor’s office did not respond for comment for this story but has said that religious instruction would be prohibited at any Catholic school converted to a charter school.

The diocese and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are currently discussing the possibility of converting Catholic schools facing closure into charter schools, which receive public and private funding.

But Caggiano said the diocese would abandon talks if asked to teach sex education.

“If the charter schools are forced to follow the state curriculum in health and sex education – we find some of that material objectionable – then we could not proceed in any way, shape or form,” Caggiano told this paper.

The talks are on the heels of the diocese’s announcement that 29 parochial schools in Brooklyn and Queens might close in June. That includes five schools in southern Brooklyn – Our Lady of Perpetual Help at 5902 Sixth Avenue, Our Lady of Angels at 337 74th Street, Most Precious Blood at 133-157 27th Avenue, Flatbush Catholic Academy at 2520 Church Avenue, and St. Vincent Ferrer at 1603 Brooklyn Avenue.

By transforming Catholic schools into charter schools, current students would remain in the buildings and not flood overcrowded public schools, Bloomberg believes.

“I’m looking forward to hearing more about how diocese-operated charter schools would work,” said City Councilman Vincent Gentile. “School District 20 is severely overcrowded – the second most overcrowded school district in the whole city – so it’s crucial that we keep the seats at Our Lady of Angels available to local kids.”

Reaction to the news that Catholic schools could become charter schools was mixed.

“In general, it has to be a good thing. It depends on what the parameters that they establish are — if the students stay in the school, if the teachers hold on to their jobs. If that’s the case, it’s a good thing,” said Vincent Tannacore, principal of the Flatbush Catholic Academy.

However, some parents objected to DiMarzio’s talks with the city.

“We do not want this to become a charter school because, to me, that’s a public school and that defeats the purpose of a Catholic education,” asserted Lori Pedone, whose son attends Most Precious Blood.

“That’s not preserving the vision, as he calls it,” she continued. “I can’t fathom why he wants to do this.”

Caggiano countered, “[DiMarzio] wants to engage with the mayor and his staff to see what in fact could be legislatively possible. What we have is just a proposal. The bishop did not want to turn down the possibility of establishing yet another relationsh­ip.”

Pedone says Most Precious Blood wants to remain open as a Catholic school.

The school prepared a business plan outlining how it would support itself without the $150,000 annual subsidy it receives from the diocese. The school would increase tuition from $3,400 to $3,800.

“We have raised more than $100,000 in pledges to keep us open,” Pedone said. “Based on the plan, we would not need their money.”

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