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School’s Out Forever At Bishop Donahue High School in McMechen

Wheeling Central will absorb students

Photo by Scott McCloskey Bishop Donahue High School in McMechen will close at the end of the current school year, officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced Thursday.

McMECHEN — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston wants students and their parents at the soon-to-close Bishop Donahue High School to know the same chance for a Catholic education will be available to them just six miles north at Wheeling Central Catholic High School.

They just have to be willing to trade in their Bishop Donahue green for Central maroon.

The diocese announced Thursday it will close Bishop Donahue in McMechen at the end of the school year due to declining enrollment. The school has 101 students this year, including just 15 freshmen, according to Bryan Minor, executive director of human resources and public information for the diocese.

The small class forced the diocese to consider the viability of Bishop Donahue, Minor said.

The school opened in 1955, and now the diocese faces the prospect of telling Bishop Donahue’s students and their parents — many of them alumni — that the Catholic education they expected will no longer be offered there.

“What we will tell the parents is, you chose a Catholic education for your child,” Minor said. “That education is available at a different school with different colors, six miles to the north.”

He said those building schools today construct them to house at least 400 students. There are 277 students enrolled at Wheeling Central, and Minor said there should be no overcrowding problems even if all Bishop Donahue students transfer there for the 2017-18 school year.

“We are not overcrowding Central,” Minor said. “There is classroom space for them, and there are teaching resources there. We hope all 101 students come to Central Catholic High School. If that happens, will there have to be resources added? Certainly. But we do want to take a look at all opportunities available to the students, all resources available to families … to make sure students land softly.”

The diocese has committed to funding a bus to bring students from Marshall County to Wheeling each day. The program would be similar to one the diocese operates from Washington County that brings as many as 25 students each day for education at Wheeling Central.

The diocese also will offer stipends to Bishop Donahue students enrolling at Wheeling Central next year. For the 2017-18 academic year, the stipend will be $1,750 per student; for 2018-19, $1,250; and for 2019-20, $1,000.

The stipends will help offset the cost of Wheeling Central’s annual tuition, currently at $6,100, according to Minor. Tuition at Bishop Donahue for the 2016-17 school year was $4,940.

An open house at Wheeling Central for Bishop Donahue students only will be set for next month, Minor said. This open house would be in addition to Wheeling Central’s regular open house schedule.

Minor said the diocese also has had discussions with its legal counsel about whether Bishop Donahue’s athletes would be able to move to Wheeling Central and participate in sports without any penalties. The attorneys have determined there are no issues with the athletes moving to a new school after theirs has closed.

It’s also expected the merging of the school will result in new possibilities for more classes and technology products at the school.

“Anytime a school experiences a 20- to 30-percent increase in its enrollment, you have to think school officials will look at new offerings,” Minor said.

And new classes at Wheeling Central may mean some of Bishop Donahue’s faculty could find work in the future. About 20 employees at Bishop Donahue learned Thursday afternoon their school was closing.

Minor said the faculty members were encouraged to apply for positions at other schools within the diocese, which operates 20 elementary schools and seven high schools throughout the state. Statewide, the diocese employs 567 teachers and staff to serve its 5,667 students.

“While we can’t assure employment, I know they will be recommended for positions,” Minor said of those at Bishop Donahue.

Minor said the decision to close Bishop Donahue was based on more than finances, although the school has had an average annual shortfall of $216,000 over the last decade.

“If the decision had been only about money, it would have happened anytime over the past 20 years,” Minor said.

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