By Emily Drooby
On Oct. 26, there was a sea of backpacks in Forest Hills, Queens. It was the first-time doors at our Lady Queen of Martyrs opened in weeks.
The school is one of 11 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn forced to close in the beginning of October after COVID hot spot flare ups.
Three weeks later, those restrictions are being loosened and some “red zones” are now “yellow,” meaning school is back in session
“We were concerned that our closure could go beyond two weeks. So, we are very, very excited to be reopening,” said Anne Zuschlag, the principal at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs.
Three other Catholic middle and elementary schools also opened back up: Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy in Brooklyn and St. Nicholas of Tolentine Catholic Academy in Queens.
“I’m glad to be at school and I can see all my friends,” said Aiya Richens, a student at the school.
Caroline Rutkowski, a parent, felt “relieved, excited, it feels like another opportunity to show everyone that we are doing things right here.”
But the reopening also brings a new set of problems: yellow zone schools must perform weekly COVID testing. Despite this being a state mandate, New York isn’t helping with the costs.
“And that is extremely troubling because many of us are already functioning at a deficit budget this year because of all the provisions we needed to put in place,” said Principal Zuschlag. “”So, we are very, very cautious about how this is going to impact us in the long run.”
They’re estimating the cost of testing for their school to be $2,500 per week. That’s on top of the tens-of-thousands the school has already spent this year on safety protocols. Diocesan leaders say they’re working with the city and the state to address this issue.
In the meantime, six other Catholic schools are still closed. Parents in those red zone neighborhoods have been speaking out on social media, calling elected officials and protesting.
The anger is understandable, especially with so many schools close to the yellow zone. In fact, Good Shepherd Catholic Academy is right on a border. Their side of the street is red, and the one across the street is yellow.
“Which just adds to the disappointment and discouragement that everyone is facing,” their principal, John O’Brien, explained. “Teachers, and faculty, staff, students and parents, all eager to get back to school. So, we remain hopeful, never giving up hope, but we are frustrated.”
Grandparents like Thomas DePrisco believe the zones need a closer look.
“Now a true leader would look at, if you’re hearing complaints, ‘Wait a minute, we can tweak it. We can adjust the boundaries based upon the facts.’ That’s all I’m asking for,” he said.
A neighborhoods positivity rate has to be under three percent for ten days for the restrictions to be loosened. Right now, it’s not clear when that will be. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been praising the plan, saying they have seen a drop in red zone cases.