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There was a time long ago when public schools were thriving, and Catholic schools were also thriving. They were not in competition for students or money. But as our financial demands began pressing on both sectors, Catholic schools began closing and struggling to survive. Among rightwing ideologues, it became conventional to proclaim Catholic schools as “better” than public schools because they were free to kick out the students they didn’t want.
Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, an editor at Commonweal, calls on certain tabloids (i.e. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post) to stop using Catholic schools to shame public schools. She hearkens back to that long-ago ethic when the different sectors served different populations and knew it.
The Post is unlikely to cease its attacks on the city’s public schools, because Murdoch loves school choice and lionizes charter schools. The Post eagerly prints press releases from Success Academy without ever bothering to fact-check or to acknowledge that SA is an exemplar of high attrition rates and high teacher-turnover rates.
O’Reilly writes (and this is only part of her article):
I can’t comment on the soundness of the decisions being made by the New York City Department of Education. But I know who I see using the pandemic to stuff their pockets, and it isn’t fat-cat maintenance workers. The Post’s implication that public-school educators are unconcerned with their students’ wellbeing is disgraceful. And while it is true that Catholic schools can be a lifeline for students served poorly by public education, I have also known families who have moved their children out of Catholic schools because the public system provides—is required to provide—services for learning disabilities and other special needs that Catholic schools can’t always accommodate. “Putting education first” is not as simple as it sounds.
Catholics should be standing in solidarity with all our neighbors as we do our best to cope with this crisis. We degrade our witness when we allow Catholic schools to be used in a propaganda campaign against public services—or against an honest reckoning with the facts. As the 2020 election approaches, conservatives are eager to exploit the Catholic school success story to advance the claim—let’s call it what it is, a conspiracy theory—that liberals are dishonestly playing up the threat of COVID-19 to make President Donald Trump look bad.
The truth is, my kids and their schoolmates are part of a broad experiment to find out whether masks and distancing and all the other safeguards in place are enough to prevent the spread of the virus. All of us, public and private, parents, teachers, and administrators, are looking for the best way forward in a highly unstable situation. That situation is not the fault of teachers’ unions, or lazy public-school janitors, or even (despite his many sins) Bill de Blasio. It is a direct consequence of the reprehensible failure of the Trump administration to protect Americans from COVID-19. We are all still scrambling, months after schools first shut down in March, because we have inadequate testing and tracing, no national recovery plan, and a president who undermines public trust and sneers at his opponent for wearing a mask. The real scandal we’re all facing isn’t the lack of a functional school system. It’s the lack of a functional federal government.