Parents at Chicago’s oldest Catholic school serving predominantly black students said Thursday the school had been on a downward spiral for the past two years and they believe that led to its closing.
The relationship between parents and parish leadership had gotten so bad that St. Elizabeth had been losing families, according to many St. Elizabeth parents who posted on a parents’ Facebook page.
The Archdiocese of Chicago announced on Wednesday — just a week before the start of the school year — that the Bronzeville school would not be opening, giving parents the option of enrolling their children at nearby Holy Angels school at discounted tuition.
Parents were surprised by the robocalls saying St. Elizabeth had suddenly been deemed unsafe. Lead paint was found during painting of the 130-year-old school, the archdiocese said.
“For the last month, we’ve been having meetings with school leadership and the archdiocese. They were saying they were doing all these building modifications and hiring a new principal and new staff,” said parent Jimmie Greenlee, who has a second-grader there. “My primary disappointment is that St. Elizabeth is one of the first African-American Catholic schools on the South Side. That it’s going to be closing after so many years is very sad.”
Some who had served on St. Elizabeth’s parent council said they did not think parents or staff were supported by parish leadership.
“I’m heartbroken. I really am,” said one, Lakisha Brown, who had two students there until deciding in June not to return.
“This would have been my son’s eighth year there, with all of his friends he started with, but I couldn’t take the environment anymore,” Brown said. “St. Elizabeth used to be a family. Horrible leadership led to its demise. You’d have a teacher there one, two months, then gone. Even staff started pulling their kids out.”
On the parents’ Facebook page, many echoed similar sentiments and said they complained to the archdiocese.
Archdiocese officials were adamant Thursday that safety was their only reason for closing the kindergarten through eighth-grade school at 4052 S. Wabash Ave.
“Lead paint was found after it was exposed two weeks ago during the repair work, making the entire school building unsafe. Parents were informed as soon as arrangements for the students could be made,” spokeswoman Susan Burritt said.
Holy Angels, at 750 E. 40th St., has a 400-student capacity, but it served just 200 last school year, the same number as St. Elizabeth. The closing affects 18 staff members, including 12 teachers, most of whom will be accommodated at Holy Angels, the archdiocese said.
“Every teacher at St. Elizabeth who would like to go to Holy Angels, we have a position for them,” interim Supt. Mary Kearney said Thursday. “I’m sorry that maybe some people think there’s something else to this. We had every intention of opening the school, and lead wasn’t anything we trumped up.”
Before this week, the archdiocese had been working on a plan to consolidate the two schools, and a third, St. Ambrose at 1012 E. 47th St., as it did last year with four Northwest Side parishes. Officials said the closing had nothing to do with the consolidation plan and discussions will begin in October.
The archdiocese is providing additional funding to Holy Angels, which starts classes Monday, four days before St. Elizabeth would have. It also will provide bus service for St. Elizabeth students.