8 THE QUEENS COURIER • JULY 23, 2019 FOR BREAKING NEWS VISIT WWW.QNS.COM
Students, parents protest in eff ort to keep St. Mel’s
Catholic Academy in Flushing open for all students
BY CARLOTTA MOHAMED
For the past week, it has been a rollercoaster
ride for students and parents at
St. Mel’s Catholic Academy in Flushing as
they continue to fi ght to keep the school
open for all students.
About 100 parents and students took
to the streets on July 17 near St. Mel’s
Catholic Academy, located at 154-24 26th
Ave., protesting to save grades 4 through
8, as they scramble to fi nd a new school
for their children who they say have been
“We are grateful that St. Mel’s will
remain open for younger students, but for
the older students, it’s like they’re being
thrown out and pushed to the side, and
families aren’t going to realistically go to
two diff erent buildings to bring their kids
to school if they can all be together in
one place,” said Alie Ziraschi, a parent of
three daughters — ages 4, 7 and 10 — who
attend St. Mel’s.
Although St. Mel’s Catholic Academy
will no longer exist in its current form, the
school announced the opening of its early
childhood center program — consisting of
nursery, pre-K, kindergarten and grades
1 through 3 — in September, continuing
to serve children in Flushing,Bayside,
Whitestone and College Point.
“In the midst of that sorrow came some
joy and we were able to use the school’s
fund balance — since we pay our bills
and tuition — to keep the early childhood
center here,” Father Joseph Sonti
told QNS.“I’ve only been here for a year
and I’ve fallen in love with the children
and their families. Th e march generated
from parents was a demonstration of
love and loyalty for the school. I think it’s
a natural response because they want the
best for their children, and I want the best
for them, too.”
It’s a small victory for St. Mel’s, which
was one of 20 Catholic schools around
the city scheduled to close in August
due to fi nancial strains of the COVID-
19 pandemic, according to the Diocese of
Brooklyn’s July 9 announcement.
Th e schools have seen a decline of
enrollment over the last fi ve years, but
the registration totals for the upcoming
school year are down signifi cantly, largely
due to the massive unemployment and
loss of business that has resulted from the
pandemic, the Diocese said in its statement
Ziraschi was in a state of “complete utter
shock” when she read the email sent by
the Diocese, she said.
“It really took my breath away hearing
that news and seeing that email because
it came out of nowhere,” Ziraschi said. “At
the timing of it, it was terrible because of
the COVID-19 issue and situation — the
kids haven’t been in school since March
and didn’t have any closure to the school
year as it was … and now to have their
school out of nowhere closed, it’s just
shocking to us.”
Ziraschi is choosing to keep her two
younger children at St. Mel’s, even if she
has to fi nd a new school for her older
daughter, who is entering sixth grade in
“I’m worried about her because it’s
depressing for her being at home and not
being able to be with friends,” Ziraschi
said. “Being away from that environment
for so long and fi nding out she lost her
school, it’s an injustice to these kids.”
During a virtual zoom meeting on July
13 with Th omas Chadzutko, superintendent
of schools, Ziraschi said it was a “slap
in the face” to families who were muted
and not given the opportunity to speak.
“Only certain questions were answered
in the chat forum and the meeting abruptly
came to an end,” Ziraschi said.
In response, Ziraschi initiated an online
petition that has amassed 2,464 signatures
thus far to keep the school open for all
students who have committed by registering
for the 2020-2021 school year.
“Out of all the schools that closed on the
list in the Brooklyn Diocese, our school
was the only school that did not have any
debts — no outstanding bills, tuition, so
we weren’t in a defi cit in our school and
that came as a shock to us also,” Ziraschi.
In a statement to QNS, the Diocese of
Brooklyn said St. Mel’s is closing due to
In 2016, St. Mel’s had 208 students
enrolled, and in the 2019-2020 school
year that just ended, there were only 80
students —which represents more than a
60 percent decline in enrollment.
“Th e Diocese of Brooklyn has set a standard
that 225 students are needed in a
school to maintain fi scal stability, healthy
class sizes, and a robust educational setting,”
the Diocese said. “About 80 students
are almost one-third of that requirement.”
Additionally, the Diocese said, the
2019-2020 school year ended with a projected
defi cit of more than $365,000, and
the per-pupil actual cost was $9,920 compared
to the actual 2019-2020 tuition
charged of $4,800.
“Th e classes that are strongest at St.
Mel’s are nursery through grade 3, so
there is a proposal to run such a program
for the 2020-2021 school year,” the
Diocese said. “It is the hope of the administration
to use this foundation to rebuild
Many neighboring principals have been
busy conducting tours for students from
St. Mel’s, according to the Diocese.
“Our school community has been welcoming
and is registering students from
St. Mel’s so that they can continue to take
part in the value of a Catholic education,”
the Diocese said.
In the meantime, Ziraschi said they’re
making the argument that St. Mel’s should
remain open for its remaining students,
and take in the overfl ow of students
from other schools, such as Holy Trinity
Catholic Academy in Whitestone.
Organizers of another online petition
are requesting that the Diocese
of Brooklyn consider merging the two
schools since both have high academic
ratings and want to stay open.
“We just hope that the Diocese hears us.
Th e principal of our school can work out
an agreement and keep incoming classes
in the upper grades, while their siblings
attend early childhood programs,”
Ziraschi said. “I’m hopeful that something
can be done.”
Jacqueline Loiacono, a kindergarten
teacher at St. Mel’s, described the school
community as a “tight-knit family” with a
very supportive community.
“A lot of families said they’re not going
anywhere. Th ey’re just really hopeful that
we get more students and St. Mel’s can
grow into a bigger and better school than
it is now,” Loiacono said.
Photo by Sarah Ferrara
St. Mel’s Catholic Academy students protest to keep schools open for children in grades 4 through 8.
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