As Fall approaches, Catholic schools navigate reopening plans

Back in March, schools across the country rapidly switched from in-person instruction to online learning, in an effort to control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as the new school year approaches and the virus continues to spread, school districts are making decisions about whether to offer in-person instruction, go back to remote learning, or some combination of the two. Catholic schools are facing many of these same challenges, and need to balance many other factors in their decisions about the upcoming school year.

Mary Pat Donoghue and Jennifer Daniels are both Directors at the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and they stopped by The Drew Mariani Show™ this week to discuss how Catholic schools are approaching the upcoming school year in light of the COVID crisis.

Donoghue told Drew, “Certainly it’s a balance between the safety of our students, our teachers, and our school personnel, and balancing that with the important mission of Catholic schools, which is the integral formation of the human person. And while distance learning can certainly provide some opportunity to practice skills and keep things somewhat moving, we understand that integral formation should be a relational process. And we know that it cannot fully occur unless it occurs person to person.”

There are some areas of the country that are experiencing a surge of COVID cases, while other areas have more stable levels, and so it is up to each diocese to determine what is best for the safety and well-being of students, teachers, and families in their particular situation.

“We need to make this decision, a discernment really, and each locality needs to look at the situation where they are,” Donoghue pointed out. “Which is why we can’t really do national guidelines. But rather, what we are seeing is the dioceses across the country have all developed task forces, there have been directives coming out, and many of them are directing the schools to develop a plan for a safe reopening of the schools.”

Daniels also pointed out that Catholic schools are used to doing a lot with few resources, and this situation is another instance where Catholic schools are stepping up to the plate and finding innovative ways to fulfill their mission of forming the minds, bodies, and souls of young people.

She said, “I’ve been incredibly proud to see the work of the schools across the country that are developing multiple options, they are ensuring that the safety elements are all there. But while they look at all of the available resources and tools that they have, they are trying their best to ensure that they have the most connection to the families to do the community element of what Catholic schools provide. And bringing that community together as personally as possible.”

“What we’re seeing is a lot of multi-step processes and lots of options, so they can be sure to have all of their resources right there and available as we come closer and closer to Fall.”

During the conversation a listener called in and shared that her kids attend Catholic school, but she is struggling to justify paying tuition for a Catholic school if classes are all online and there is not that in-person component.

Mary Pat responded, “Your caller hit it on the head. It’s difficult to ask parents to pay a full tuition for an experience that is not the communion and community that Catholic education is known for.”

But she pointed out that this is not the first time that Catholic schools have had to battle disease and outbreaks. In the past they have found ways to support the safety and health of their students while still providing an integral education. Mary Pat expressed confidence that Catholic schools will navigate this current crisis by being innovative, flexible, and prudent.

“I believe that we need to think of this in light of faith, in light of an understanding of history. That we have certainly negotiated illnesses before. We have gone through polio outbreaks, I remember my first year as principal we had the H1N1 outbreak, which affected many, many children. There are ways to do this safely, and our innovative Catholic school leaders are looking to do just that. So that we can serve our families, we can serve our students, and we can continue the important mission of the formation of the child’s body, mind, and soul.”

Listen to the full conversation below:

The Drew Mariani Show airs weekdays from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Central on Relevant Radio® and the Relevant Radio App.