The coronavirus and related economic concerns have forced Independence Mission Schools, a network of Catholic elementary schools in Philadelphia, to lay off 180 teachers and staff at its 15 schools.
Bruce Robinson, CEO of the network of independent Catholic schools, said Thursday that the nonprofit is keeping core teachers but released staff not involved in direct instruction, as well as teachers of subjects such as art, music, and gym. The laid-off workers accounted for about 38% of the network’s 475 employees.
“Our funding comes from tuition, tax credits, and scholarships," Robinson said. “We know that some of our families are hurting right now."
The news comes as millions of workers lose jobs because of the pandemic. More than six million Americans filed initial jobless claims for the week ending March 28, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor — a new high for the country. Pennsylvania alone accounted for 406,000 of the new unemployment claims, and has more in two weeks than any state except California.
The network said students at the Independence Mission schools will continue to receive instruction in subjects like math and reading. (Like many of their counterparts, the schools are attempting to develop and deliver online learning during the pandemic.)
The schools are Holy Cross, Our Mother of Sorrows/St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Barnabas, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Frances Cabrini, St. Gabriel, St. Helena/Incarnation, St. Malachy, St. Martin de Porres, St. Martin of Tours, St. Raymond of Penafort, St. Rose of Lima, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Veronica, and the DePaul Catholic School.
Formerly run by their parishes, the schools became part the network created in 2012 in an effort to sustain Catholic education in low-income neighborhoods. They are run separately from the much larger Archdiocese of Philadelphia network of schools.
Robinson said the layoffs represent a sacrifice to allow the 15 schools to continue core instruction. “We feel terrible about the decision,” he said.
Independence Mission Schools will pay the first month of affected employees’ COBRA insurance costs, Robinson said, and tuition for the children of laid-off workers will be waived for the rest of the school year.
Principals and central office workers at the director position and above are taking pay cuts for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown, Robinson said.
Affected workers will be brought back as soon as schools reopen, he said, or sooner if Independence Mission Schools’ application gets aid under the federal stimulus package.
The educational network has determined that about a quarter of its 4,000-plus students needed Chromebooks to make dynamic remote instruction possible and is in the process of getting that technology to families.
About $250,000 has been raised to date in a COVID-19 Emergency Fund for the purchase of technology and support to Independence Mission Schools families encountering hardships because of the economic downturn, Robinson said.
The Rev. Christopher Walsh, pastor at St. Raymond in West Oak Lane, said he thought the network “handled it well, given these very difficult times.”
He said the parish would offer to laid-off staffers the same support it has given others “because of this unique time in our world history. We are praying with people, encouraging them, trying to assist with unemployment applications when needed. I am hopeful they will return to employment and our school will be opened as soon as it is safe for that to happen.”
Pennsylvania last week passed a law that requires public schools to pay teachers during the coronavirus closures; the law does not apply to teachers at private and parochial schools.