Appeals will be heard in early January for parents upset about the closing of three Holy Cross Academy Catholic Schools.

In the two weeks since Holy Cross Academy Catholic Schools announced it would be closing three campuses, Monsignor Lewis F. Gaetano, Holy Cross president, met six times with parents and alumni of the affected schools.

At each session, the sentiment was the same: Don't close our school.

On Dec. 11, Holy Cross Academy announced that under its "Transitioning for Growth" initiative, it would close St. Joseph School next year, and convert St. Peter and St. Louis schools into Family Preschool Centers.

Gaetano has said that "Transitioning for Growth" was designed to strengthen the school system's Catholic identity, to enhance educational quality and student activity, and financial stability. But supporters of the affected schools have criticized the plan, arguing that it leans too heavily in favor of the suburbs, and that it will leave central Canton bereft of a Catholic school.

Also, some staff will likely be laid off.

Earlier this week, Gaetano announced that the three schools would be able to appeal to the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and Bishop George V. Murry.

The appeals meetings have been scheduled for Jan. 6-9.

Schools must assemble a team to present their respective appeals. Members must be selected by the parish priest, principal, and parent leaders.

"In terms of the Church, we normally allow an appeal process to take place," Gaetano said. "In this appeal, what we're asking is, is there something as a bishop, as a board that we haven't heard, that will help us to understand in dealing with the realities of funding, enrollment and educational quality?"


During the six meetings, Gaetano repeatedly cited several statistics that shows a dwindling school-age population throughout Stark County, with the exception of Lake and Jackson townships; flat enrollment figures; a systemwide occupancy rate of 58 percent, and a $4.6 million system deficit, which he said, is at risk of draining parish resources.

"I am not your enemy," he told parents who attended Wednesday's meeting at St. Joseph's School. "The bishop is not your enemy. The school board is not your enemy ... If you have a solution we haven't thought of, if there's an answer, I'd love to hear it."

Suggestions from the audience included consolidating the two Canton schools, recruiting students currently enrolled in Canton City schools, and seeking corporate sponsorships.

Gaetano said the closings were recommended by consultants who specialize in Catholic-school growth, based on a feasibility study.

"The demographic facts are the facts," he said. "I can not, not pay attention to them. That would be equally irresponsible."

They also contended that they weren't informed in time to address the crisis.

Some have even organized an effort to contact Pope Francis.

During the six meetings, parents were supposed to register to transition their children to one of Holy Cross Academy's remaining eight campuses for the 2014-2015 academic year. As of Wednesday night, no one had.

Gaetano said he's not surprised at the pushback.

"When a decision like this is made, people are sad and hurt," he said. "They need an opportunity to vent their feelings. If I can serve as the medium for their frustration, that's part of being the messenger."