A man walks his dog past the entrance to the Star of the Sea School in the Richmond District on Monday, April 1, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Century old Richmond District school will close after sudden decline in enrollment

Archdiocese blames move to more ‘traditional’ Catholic curriculum, but parents say pastor’s behavior at fault

A 110-year-old Catholic elementary school in the Inner Richmond will close its doors after several years of conflict between parents and church officials and declining enrollment, officials announced Wednesday.

The Star of the Sea School will suspend all class offerings this June and terminate all school positions, which include 11 teachers and five part-time faculty. The school will finish the current semester’s preschool class schedule.

“We regret that we must suspend classes because of projected low enrollment for the upcoming school year,” said Pastor Joseph Illo, in a letter to the community.

Just earlier this week, officials from the archdiocese had told The Examiner that the school was looking at cutbacks but would not be closing, and a spokesman said any discussions of a possible closure “were not seriously considered.”

The school, which had 220 students enrolled in the 2017-2018 school year, reported only 50 students committed to re-enrolling for the 2019-2020 school year.

The closure comes after four years of conflict between the school’s parents and the parish, which erupted shortly after Illo’s arrival.

Church officials claim the drop in enrollment is a result of opposition from some parents to the introduction of a new, more traditional Catholic curriculum.

However, many parents have laid the blame squarely at the feet, of Illo.

After Illo’s appointment as pastor at the end of 2014, he began a campaign to bring in more conservative policies.

The pastor made headlines two months into his new role by reversing a policy of the parish that allowed girls to be ‘altar servers.’ Within the same year, parents began calling for his removal after second graders were given pamphlets with sexual topics, and court case records of prior misconduct at a Modesto school surfaced.

A March 7 meeting between school officials and the community to discuss the future of the school led to a confrontation between Illo and parents and served as “a catalyst that resulted in a public eruption of frustration and chaos,” according to a complaint filed by parents.

Shortly after the meeting an anonymous group filed a request for the archdiocese to launch an investigation into Illo, calling him “unnecessarily destructive, abusive, and hostile.”

The Department of Catholic Schools has begun reaching out to their network to help current school faculty and students find a new school, according to the letter.

vtence@sfexaminer.com

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