- The Washington Times - Monday, October 1, 2007

Catholic families protested yesterday outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral in their continuing opposition to an Archdiocese of Washington plan to make eight of the District’s 28 schools into nonreligious charter schools.

The families, who say the proposed closings target black families, carried signs outside the Northwest church with such slogans as: “Keep Black Catholic Schools Alive” and “Educate by Faith, Not By Race.”

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl has said the church can no longer afford to keep the schools open. He cited increasing costs and diminishing numbers of Catholic students in the District.

“We have attempted to educate as many people as possible, and have done so beyond our means,” Archbishop Wuerl said. “We can’t continue to be an alternative to public schools in the District.”

The change, made public this summer, would likely make the charter schools eligible for District funding, and the charter schools would likely pay rent to the archdiocese.

The schools are part of a 12-school consortium put together in the mid-1990s to save on administrative costs and to pool resources.

Over the past 10 years, the archdiocese and donors have invested more than $60 million in the consortium of center-city schools while the enrollment has declined 20 percent. The consortium serves 2,200 children, 75 percent of whom are non-Catholic.

Though the schools have improved academically, they have continued to lose money.

The Mass yesterday, known as the Red Mass because it marks the Sunday before the Supreme Court resumes its schedule, was attended by six Supreme Court justices.

The schools most likely to be converted are Assumption School and Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian School in Southeast; Holy Name School and St. Francis de Sales School in Northeast; and Immaculate Conception, Nativity Catholic Academy, St. Augustine and St. Gabriel in Northwest.

Archdiocese and parish officials will meet Friday at Trinity University.

The conversion could come as soon as fall 2008 and would impact as many as 1,400 students. Archbishop Wuerl is expected to announce a final plan later this month or in November.

Parent say they still are working on a plan to save the schools but are concerned that the archdiocese already has made a decision.

“How could it run without support of the archdiocese?” parent Martill D. Seymour said.

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