After 61 years in West Hempstead, St. Thomas the Apostle School will close at the end of the school year.
Since 2015, nursery school through eighth-grade student enrollment had declined 35 percent, to just 209 students, according to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which made the announcement on March 16. The Rev. Francis Maniscalco, the elementary school’s pastor, said that the coronavirus pandemic added to the cost of safely opening and operating the building. Over the past five years, the school needed more than $1 million in subsidies from the parish and the diocese to sustain its operations. In the 2019-20 school year, those subsidies totaled $272,000.
“Our school leadership and staff have worked tirelessly against enormous odds to see our school through to a secure future,” Maniscalco wrote in a letter to parents. “Given these circumstances, I see no alternative to accepting the reality that the parish cannot continue to operate our school without exhausting in the near future the very resources which make it possible for us to have a school.”
He added that the pandemic also delayed the school’s plans to implement an innovative program to boost enrollment last September.
“If ever a school had a community worth serving, it is St. Thomas the Apostle for the past year,” Maniscalco wrote. “This closing is solely due to tough enrollment and financial realities and not to any lack in your willingness to make our school strong.”
Jesica Hernandez, a St. Thomas parent, told the Herald that she was saddened by the news. “It was devastating,” she said. “It’s been a part of my family for many years. It’s very sad for all of us, but we love our principal, Dr. [Valerie] Serpe, because she tried her best to keep the school open. She touched my life in a way that will make me feel grateful for everything that she’s done.”
St. Thomas board President Lori Lang said that the announcement came as a surprise to her, as it did to many parents. A parent of five, two of whom attend St. Thomas, Lang said she didn’t think the school’s leaders fought hard enough to keep it open.
“I just feel as though this decision is a little bit short-sighted, especially for the future of Catholic education on Long Island,” Lang said. “Everybody is kind of shocked, because our enrollment is over 200. We’re 209. That’s not a small school.”
She and other parents launched a petition last week asking the diocese how much money would be needed to keep the school open. More than 3,000 people had signed it as the Herald went to press on Monday.
St. Thomas is one of several area Catholic schools that have closed in the past year. St. Raymond’s Parochial School, in East Rockaway, was among them, closing last June. “We are deeply saddened by the closings of these two elementary schools,” Sean Dolan, communications director of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, stated in a news release. “The Diocese . . . thanks the dedicated and committed principals and teachers, both lay and religious, who have taught in these schools.”
St. Thomas students will be welcomed into any Catholic elementary school in the diocese. School leaders and the state Department of Education will assist parents and students in selecting and transferring to any of those schools.