Parents rally to keep SS. Peter school open
Gail Maholick/TIMES NEWS Robin Plesniarski of Lehighton meets with students holding signs that read "We are Family," in an attempt to raise awareness that SS. Peter and Paul School needs the community's support to stay open.
Parents gathered Tuesday in front of SS. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Lehighton to air their concerns about the Allentown Diocese's comments that the school has been under study this past year.
The study, examining the financial and enrollment challenges of the school, is being performed by a local group, with the assistance of the Allentown Diocese.
Presently, 86 students are enrolled at the school.
Matthew T. Kerr, diocesan spokesman said that SS. Peter and Paul School is presently the only school in the diocese under study.
Robyn Plesniarski, a parent of twin boys in kindergarten at the school, said, "I grew up here and when the boys were ready for school, I moved back to Lehighton from Bethlehem so they could go to school here."
She added, "I came for the small classes and special attention I knew my children would receive here.
"We're concerned because the Allentown Diocese said we are under study," she said. "We all know what that means. We realize the school is a business, but we need this school in the community. Our community needs this school."
One parent, Troy Ahner, said the school needs to increase enrollment by 20 students to become financially sound. Other parents said the school has room to accommodate up to 150 students.
"We need the community's support and an endowment that would remove the financial concerns," she said.
She noted that other local Catholic schools in the area have endowments which provide up to $50,000 each year for scholarships.
Parents said that the present church family may not be aware of the school's hardship on enrollment.
"We need a faith-based school," Plesniarski said. "We do not have charter schools in the Lehighton area. This school is a great alternative to public education."
She also noted that families do not have to be Catholic for their child to attend the school.
Parents said that the $2,800 tuition is well worth the expense. They also noted that scholarships are available.
"We need the help from the community," Ahner said.
"This is the only Christian-centered school in the area," he said. "We need 20 students that will make all the difference."
John Meier, who is president of the Holy Name Society, said that if the school and church are taken away from Lehighton, they will never return.
"We need to take away this uncertainty," said Meier. "We need to stay open."
Meier said that if the 86 students enrolled in Lehighton schools, it would cost the district $15,000 a student.
"We're saving the Lehighton school district approximately $1.5 million," Meier said, adding, "This is not a new challenge for this school."
According to the school's website, the school has been in existence since Feb. 9, 1925. Classes first began in the brick building, adjacent to St. Peter and Paul Church, Third and Coal streets, Lehighton.
In 1954, there was an addition to the school to meet the growing needs. The school hall and kitchen were remodeled in 1954.
The school had such a growing enrollment in 1983 that storage rooms were converted to office space and for a new principal's office.
The school also received some added space during the 1984-85 school year when the convent was renovated. That is also the year the school added lay teachers.
In 2003, the school reported declining enrollment.
In 2005, the school did major renovations to add a computer lab.