Parochial problems: St. Thomas More will close
The only Catholic high school south of the canal will close its doors.
St. Thomas More Academy will permanently close at the end of the year, after continued low enrollment and financial burdens, school leaders wrote in a letter to the community.
The Catholic school has operated in Magnolia since 1998. The closure comes at a time when Catholic schools across the country struggle with shrinking enrollment, as families leave for more affordable options.
Private school options also continue to vanish across southern and central Delaware. St. John’s Lutheran School in Dover shut its doors in April.
The Jefferson School in Georgetown is closing at the end of this school year. Sussex Academy plans to take over the building, creating the Sussex Academy Elementary School. The State Board of Education will vote on the plan in March.
St. Thomas More has 48 students, and is on track to have fewer than 35 enrolled next year.
“It’s just not feasible and not fair to the students to have a high school with 35 students,” said Robert Krebs, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington.
In 2013, the high school had enrolled about 230 students, the Rev. James Lentini said in a letter to the school last week.
“If anyone would have told me that seven years later, I’d be making the announcement of the school’s closure, I would have thought the very idea of that would be absurd,” Lentini said. “And yet, sadly, here we are.”
The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington had planned on closing St. Thomas More in 2017, before it was taken over locally by the Holy Cross Parish. The church had hoped a parochial identity would strengthen the ties between the high school and parish elementary, bringing in more future students.
The school lowered tuition two years ago in an effort to remain affordable. But despite efforts to increase enrollment and parish donations, the school could not meet its goal of 70 students for the next school year.
The school will work with students and staff to place them in other Catholic schools should they desire. However, the only other Catholic high schools in the area are in New Castle County and in Maryland.
“There are options. It’s a little bit of a hike, but there are some options,” Krebs said.
School choice deadlines have already passed in Delaware. Because St. Thomas More is a private school, its closure does not qualify students for an exemption for missing the deadline, said Alison May, spokeswoman for the Department of Education. If students wish to enroll in a public school, they will need to return to their feeder school.
Natalia Alamdari covers education for The News Journal. You can reach her at (302) 324-2312 or email@example.com.