MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A few thousand parents are pushing back against a decision handed down to schools by the Archdiocese of Miami.

In a little more than two weeks, students will begin the school year online. However, the news was not what many parents wanted to hear, especially since they are still paying full tuition.

On Friday, the Archdiocese sent out a letter.

It reads, in part:

“The decision to begin the 2020-2021 school year with only livestreamed classes or online instruction for grades K-12 was arrived after considerable consultation with the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Catholic Conference, local health officials, and feedback solicited from parents themselves.”

Jackie Suarez, the mother of a first and fourth grade student, says the news took her completely off guard.

“A decision to be made without consulting the community of parents who, by the way, are paying upwards of a state college tuition sometimes, is unfair,” she says. “So, we thought, we want to be heard. We want choice. The bottom line of this petition, which is created out of love, is not to cause fights. It’s not to badmouth the Archdiocese. We want a choice.”

The petition, created on change.org, had about 3,500 signatures as of 11:00 p.m. Monday night.

It asks that the schools give parents the choice whether to send children back in-person, or do the virtual learning. Further, the petition states if parents must do virtual learning, then they request a discounted tuition.

Suarez says she is a working mother, and one of her children had a learning disability. As a result, she says she will need to bring in additional help.

“I’m going to have to bring in a specialist, a tutor, and pay for that to be with him while he’s learning,” she explains. “I can’t afford to do both a Catholic school and this private tutor.”

Valeria Gonzalez is another mother speaking out. Her daughter is going into kindergarten. She says every family is different, and she wishes they at least had the option.

“If there is no meeting a middle ground,” she says, “my fear is that a lot of families will withdraw.”

Archbishop Thomas Wenski says he understands the frustration but says he made this decision based on high COVID-19 numbers in South Florida.

“Just as there are parents concerned to get their children back into the classroom, there are also, perhaps, an equal number of parents who are concerned that their kids not go back to the classroom too soon,” he explains.

He does not plan to have this last all year. Wenski says after one month, in September, they will re-evaluate based on infection numbers and hopes to be able to give parents the option then.

“We will stop, take a look around, and see what we can do,” he says. “We will see if we can move toward bringing kids back into the classroom.”

While encouraging, Gonzalez believes it is more valuable to start the school year off in-person, in order to get to know teachers and classmates.

“The community aspect is one of the factors that you look into when putting your kids in that school, because you want them to be around this loving community, this loving family,” she says. “Virtually, it’s hard.”

Regarding tuition, Archbishop Wenski says it will stay the same.

“The tuition rate is the same, because our costs are pretty much the same,” he says. “We have the teachers. We have the staff and the teachers’ aides all on our payroll still.”

That also includes the cost of keeping the buildings up and running, since teachers will be doing virtual instruction from their classrooms.

In that letter, the Archbishop says they have not made a decision yet on Pre-K classes since virtual learning is more difficult for that age. They plan to announce more on that by the end of this week.

As it stands right now, the decision is final.

He says if any parents do consider withdrawing, they will not be able to get their full tuition back, but could be able to get some fees, depending on the school and different polices.

Classes start August 19.

Karli Barnett

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