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Inwood Catholic School Parents and Alumni Fight Closure

By Nigel Chiwaya | December 12, 2012 9:09am

INWOOD — When the time came to choose an elementary school for her kids, Flavia Guzman immediately knew which one she would pick. Her sons, Miguel and David, were going to St. Jude, the same school she had attended as a child.

"I wanted to bring my kids there because I felt comfortable," said Guzman, 35, who added that there are still two teachers at St. Jude from her school days. "I know that when they go through the doors they're safe, and if anything happens that phone call is there."

However, her son Miguel, a seventh-grader, may not get the chance to finish out his middle school education at St. Jude, after the archdiocese announced the school is on the chopping block.

St. Jude, located at 40 West 204th St. in Inwood, is one of six catholic elementary schools in Manhattan that is at risk of being shut down in June 2013. Unless the school can raise a significant amount of money by January, St. Jude will close its doors after 59 years.

Parents and alumni are ready to fight to keep the school open, but they fear that the school administration, which they say hasn't returned their phone calls and hasn't given them straight answers, isn't willing to fight along with them.

Parents were first notified of the potential closing in late November, when letters were sent home in their children's backpacks. Guzman, the president of the school's parent's association, said that since then the administration has been vague and unclear about what needs to be done to save the school.

When she was notified about the closing, Guzman said she approached the school's principal, David Friedlander, with the idea of holding fundraisers, only to be told that "the money we bring in as fundraisers wouldn't be enough."

When Guzman asked what could be done, she said she was told: "we have to help the kids with the transition into a new school."

Parents aren't the only ones searching for answers, or at the very least explanations. Orlando Iriarte, a volunteer theater teacher at St. Jude, said teachers are in the dark as well.

"The teachers aren't getting any straight answers," said Iriarte, 51. "They're basically being told the school's closing."

According to the Archdiocese of New York, the pastors and principals of at-risk schools will be allowed to meet with a committee and share their plans on how to keep the schools open.

Friedlander was non-committal when approached by reporters Tuesday afternoon, and didn't answer whether school officials had formulated a plan. 

"Right now, any of that information, we don't really know," Friedlander said before closing himself into his office.

Despite the silence, St. Jude's alumni aren't going down without a fight. A Facebook group, "Save Saint Jude Elementary School," already has over 200 members, and the Parent's association will be accepting funds at the school's annual holiday show on December 18.

Iriarte, who has been volunteering at St. Jude for seven years, was told that the school needs to raise at least $350,000 every year for the next five years in order to stay open. Iriarte would like to see the school reach out to prominent alumni, including basketball hall-of-fame player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Michael Jimenez, the alumnus that started the Facebook group, said that they will continue to try to save the school, but nothing will come of it if the administration won't work with them.

"We need to know that they're going to champion for us," said Jimenez, who graduated in 1987. "If not then we're swimming against the current."