CARMEL, Calif. (KION) The Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey announced on Friday their pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade campus called Junipero Serra School in Carmel is permanently closing its doors at the end of the school year.
The Diocese of Monterey Schools Superintendent tells KION the closure is directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic and that if the pandemic had not happened, the school would not have been closed.
"So disappointed when I heard that Junipero Serra was closing. I had such fond memories going to school there," said Rachel Allaire McNickle, who graduated from JSS in 1998.
McNickle's father and brother went there too.
"It was kind of a legacy to be able to go to Junipero Serra School," she said. "It was the church that my family attended since I was born and it was close to my house."
The school has been open since the 1940s, providing a Catholic education for many on the Monterey Peninsula at the site of the Carmel Mission Basilica. But in recent years, it has seen a decline in enrollment leading to financial troubles.
Even with generous parish and diocesan support, the last straw came with the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of the campus. On Friday, the school board and administration decided to close the school permanently, with final approval from the Bishop of Monterey himself.
"Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it just ham-stringed our ability to bring in new families and also creates a lot of uncertainty in raising the necessary funds for next year as well," said Kimberly Cheng, the superintendent of Diocese of Monterey Schools.
The school did have a plan in place to keep JSS afloat if it were not for COVID-19. Administrators were confident they would hit the enrollment numbers for the ccoming years along with having enough funds to keep everything open.
Currently, there are 110 students who are continuing distance learning online.
While the school will be closed at this time, there are still discussions on what the facilities will be used for in the future. Cheng says the campus could play an important role in future Catholic education initiatives.
Cheng says plans would be need to be drafted in the next few years, but it is still a long ways before anything solid will develop.
For alumni of JSS, it is all heartbreaking.
"I became a teacher because of my third grade teacher at Junipero Serra School," said McNickle. "Mrs. Thompson just made teaching seem like this could be my passion."
The Diocese of Monterey say they are working on resources to help students of JSS transfer into different Catholic schools in the region. Administrators are also giving each student $500 in scholarships.
Neighboring Catholic schools within the system have availability for additional enrollment. The Diocese says it is important for families impacted to complete the full admissions process.
There are 18 Catholic schools across the Diocese of Monterey encompassing the counties of Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and San Luis Obispo. There are about 4,300 students in the system.
Cheng says the schools within the system are taking great care to review their finances during these economic hardships.
PREVIOUS STORY:The Diocese of Monterey announced that Junipero Serra School will be closing permanently at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
Students had already switched to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Shelter in Place order.
The Diocese said the school struggled with a decline in enrollment that led to a precarious financial situation.
“Generous parish support, along with diocesan support, has been invested in the school for many years,” explained Father Paul Murphy, Pastor of the parish and Carmel Mission Basilica. “A multi-year plan to financial viability had been set in motion under the leadership of our Parish Finance Council along with recommendations received from a professional Catholic school consulting company. The economic and financial toll of the COVID19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on school, parish, and diocesan finances.”
In a statement, the Diocese said there will be a continued discussion about how the school's facility and campus can continue to play a role in Catholic education, and Bishop Daniel Garcia said a Catholic education on the peninsula is still a significant priority.
Leaders from the school and diocese plan to work with families and school employees to provide support during the transition, according to the Diocese.
School administration, the school board, the parish and the Diocese were part of the decision-making process, according to the diocese, but the final decision was approved by Bishop Garcia.
Junipero Serra School is a Catholic elementary and middle school and part of the Carmel Mission Basilica Parish that opened in 1945.