ELKTON — The board, pastor and administration of Immaculate Conception School has decided that the school will close at the end of the current academic year.
In a letter dated Jan. 31 sent to parents and friends of the 93-year-old school on Bow Street in Elkton, Father James Yeakel, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church, and Bill Schilling, principal of the school, said the decision to close was not easy.
“But after reviewing enrollment and demographic trends, accessibility to parishes and schools that are nearby, and finances and other data to assess the viability of the school, we fully believe that this is the best decision for our community,” the letter reads.
Declining enrollment since 2007 put the school in a financial pinch. Where once there were more than 500 students in pre-school through 8th grade, now there are scores less.
Yeakel said in spite of the sad news, the school continues to operate.
“We still have 108 children to educate,” he said. “And we want to celebrate the school’s contributions.”
He said there would likely be some kind of closing ceremony as well as efforts to honor current and former students and staff.
The parochial school was founded in 1927 and run until 1930 by Ursiline Sisters, Yeakel said. Saint Francis Sisters from Philadelphia took over then and have been a presence at the school ever since. The original school was on Bridge Street along with the church, where now only a cemetery remains. It moved to its current location in the 1950s, Yeakel said.
In the initial stages, school officials hoped to delay the decision until March. The administration was working to get students to commit to the next school year. But only 35 did so, according to Yeakel.
After looking at other factors, including operating costs, the letter announced that “our beloved Immaculate Conception School will complete its mission and close its doors and the conclusion of the 2019-2020 school year.”
Robert Krebs, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, said the diocese will help the employees find other positions at area Catholic schools. It will also help parents explore other options for the coming school year.
Meanwhile, Yeakel said at some point the church will have to decide what to do with the school building.
“My first thought was to put together an advisory group to see what the possibilities may be,” he said.