HUDSON HEIGHTS — Residents and parents are in shock following Tuesday's announcement that Mother Cabrini High School will be closed at the end of the academic year, saying the news came without warning.
Several community members say the school's administration never gave any warning that it was in danger of closing, and have expressed anger that they weren't given the chance to try to help keep the 115-year-old Catholic school alive.
"The alumni, parents, and students were never informed or given any inclination that the school was in trouble," said Cabrini alum Yaharia Alonzo, class of 1994. "We are all just very confused and upset."
Cabrini sophomore Aaliyah Balcacer said officials broke the news to students during an assembly Tuesday.
"I thought it was going to be about the school dance," said Balcacer, 15. "Teachers were crying."
The school blamed declining enrollment figures for the shutdown in a letter published on Cabrini's website Tuesday. School spokesman Paul Snatchko painted a grim picture Wednesday, noting that the school needed an average of 100 students in each grade to be viable. Instead, the school's sophomore and junior classes have 75 students each, with the current freshman class sitting at just 50 students. The small class sizes would leave the school in a large operating deficit for the next several years.
"You need a critical mass of students in order to be a successful operation and for the next several years we did not have those numbers," Snatchko said.
Though school officials insist that the decision to close is final, the school's alumni aren't giving up the fight. A Facebook group dedicated to saving the school picked up more than 2,000 members Tuesday, and alumni are planning to gather signatures and are discussing holding a rally to save what they say is an integral part of Northern Manhattan.
"Cabrini is everything to me," Alonzo said. "It's a part of who I am. My happiest and my best years of my life happened at Cabrini."
"It's my second home," Balcacer said. "I really don't want to leave Cabrini."
The school's alumni base is also arguing that they should have been informed of Cabrini's dire straits, and that they could have done something to help.
"I'm sure if they sent a letter out asking for donations to keep the school going for a few months or a year, we could do that," said Alonzo, 38. "But nothing was sent out; nothing was said."
Though the school is not operated by the Archdiocese of New York, that organization posted a letter on its website expressing sadness at Cabrini's closure. The Archdiocese has offered to help students transition to a new school.
That offer won't be enough for Balcacer's mother, Arlene Fernandez, who said she and her daughter turned down two full scholarships at other city Catholic schools to accept a scholarship from Cabrini.
When Fernandez asked Cabrini about transferring the scholarship to alternate schools, she was told it might not happen.
"They don't know if her scholarships are still valid," said Fernandez of her daughter's situation. "They can't give me an answer. "If I had known the school was in trouble I would have gone to another school to begin with."
Students aren't the only ones left looking for answers. The Uptown Community Church has rented space for weekly meetings in Cabrini for more than five years, and church pastor Reyn Cabinte is unsure where they will go in June.
"I got about 15 emails from people yesterday," said Cabinte, who has written an open letter expressing sadness at Cabrini's closing. "Closing wasn't anything that we expected."
"We're just sad," Cabinte added. "They've always been great to us."