Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, head of the Brooklyn Diocese, is caught between a rock and a hard place. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed converting some of the parochial schools in Brooklyn and Queens into charter schools. If this does not happen, the bishop will have to close as many as 14 schools.
For the charter plan to happen, Albany would have to pass legislation making it legal to convert religious schools into charter schools. That should not be too difficult, but the conversion would mean religious instruction would have to be discontinued. All religious symbols and displays would have to be removed.
The diocese could make other arrangements to teach Catholic beliefs. This already happens for at least some Catholic students attending the city’s public schools. But the bishop would draw the line if the charter schools were required to teach sex education.
Sex education should not become a deal breaker. Both the Catholic Church and city have much to gain if the conversion to charter schools can happen. The church would continue to own the school buildings and the existing students would be allowed to stay at the schools. The city, in turn, would avoid overcrowding at some Brooklyn and Queens public schools that are operating at or near capacity.
Not surprisingly, some parents of Catholic school students are opposed to the charter proposal. They chose the Catholic schools because they wanted their children to get a Catholic education.
These parents need to wake up. Before the mayor made the charter proposal, the diocese was preparing to close the schools. Enrollment has been steadily declining and the parishes cannot help.
Under the mayor’s plan, the charter schools could still retain the discipline and high academic standards that made the Catholic schools popular in the first place.
Albany should move quickly to change the law to make this possible.
©2009 Community News Group
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