Against national trend, York County Catholic schools see enrollment numbers rise during COVID-19 pandemic

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
York Catholic High School in York City, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

While Catholic schools across the country saw their enrollment numbers drop on average last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, most of York County's Catholic schools saw enrollment rise or remain steady throughout the year. 

Daniel Breen, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Harrisburg, said York County's five Catholic schools saw an overall rise in enrollment over the last year. Enrollment increased across all 36 schools in the diocese, he said, which spans 15 counties. 

Not only did enrollment increase during the pandemic, but Breen said the diocese projects enrollment numbers will continue to rise for York County Catholic schools by about 4% into the next school year. 

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This bucks a national trend of dropping enrollment for U.S. Catholic schools. According to an Associated Press report, enrollment fell 6.4%, or more than 111,000 students, across the nearly 6,000 Catholic schools in the country during the 2020-21 academic year. In addition, more than 200 Catholic schools closed permanently last year. 

While officials from several local Catholic schools confirmed their schools did lose some students during the pandemic, most schools saw their enrollment numbers remain steady.

York Catholic High School spokesperson Lori Keith said the high school's enrollment has remained steady at 550 over the past three years. St. Joseph School did see enrollment drop by about 30 students to a total of 249 during the 2020-21 school year, but Development Director Kristy Baker said their enrollment for 2021-22 has already risen back to 266 students. 

At Holy Trinity Catholic School, Marketing and Development Director Nicole Nirosky said the school did lose some students during the pandemic, but it gained even more from parents switching their students over from public schools. Before the pandemic, Nirosky said Holy Trinity's overall enrollment stood at 116, and by the end of the 2020-21 school year, it was at 122. 

"Usually for every one student we lose, we gain two," Nirosky said. 

Holy Trinity Catholic School, located at St. Patrick Catholic Church in York City, remained open for fully in-person instruction all school year, something many public schools in the area weren't able to offer. Nirosky said this was a common factor of why parents enrolled their students. Though most public schools have now reopened, she said most parents are keeping their students at Holy Trinity because they prefer the program. 

In order to stay open full time, Nirosky said students and staff at Holy Trinity took safety protocols seriously. Everyone entering the school building had their temperature checked before they were allowed inside, and students were kept in separate cohorts to enforce social distancing. Throughout the school year, she said only eight positive or probable COVID-19 cases were recorded among the school's students and staff. 

"We went above and beyond, and I think it really showed," Nirosky said. 

While the rising enrollment is expected to have an overall positive impact on the schools, Breen said some officials are discussing the best ways to accommodate the additional students. Some suggested measures include increasing staff and restructuring grade levels, but Breen said nothing has been decided yet that he is aware of.