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Catholic Schools: Accessible to All Students

To Teach as Jesus Did:

Catholic Education in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee

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Catholic Schools:   Accessible to All Students

In all elementary and secondary schools throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, this is prime enrollment season for 2020 – 2021.  As we continue our yearlong reflection on the Defining Characteristics of Catholic Schools,, I suggest we now consider the relevance and importance of the fact that our schools are to be, as much as possible, Accessible to All Students.


By reason of our evangelizing mission, schools in every geographic area are challenged to make themselves available to all families who seek a quality Catholic education for their children.  Our school populations do—and should—look different than they have in the past.   This shift has been occurring over the past two decades and is certain to continue into the 2020’s and beyond.  For example, currently 75.5% of the total 28,065 students in our elementary and secondary schools racially identify as White, 12.4% as Black, as Multiracial, 2.9% as Asian, .05% as Native American, and .02% as Hawaiian / Pacific Islander.  By ethnicity, 28.2% are Hispanic.


Church documents have long supported the duty of the state to protect the right of all students to an adequate education, as well as the rights of parents to choose the educational opportunities best suited to their children’s needs (Gravissimum Educationis, 6.)  Specifically, the Code of Canon Law defends the right of parents “to that assistance, to be furnished by civil society, which they need to secure the Catholic education of their children” (Canon 793 § 2.) 


More recently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops insisted that “it is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community…to continue to strive towards the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools, available, accessible, and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class (Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, Introduction.)  Currently almost two-thirds (63%) of the Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee participate in one of the voucher programs authorized by the State of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee, Racine, or Wisconsin Parental Choice Programs, and 10,413 students (35.6%) receive free or reduced lunch. 


It is not enough, however, that our schools are, within their limits, open and accessible to all; they must also be places where students and their families, regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds and abilities, are embraced with hospitality, included in all aspects of the school’s rich community life, and enabled to succeed.


 In light of our timely focus on this Defining Characteristic of Catholic Schools, Accessible to All Students, I request that every school and network community reflect on the following:


  • What are the specific marks of hospitality that characterize our school community?  How do our families and our guests, on a practical level, experience welcome and appreciation?


  • What efforts are being made to provide increased assistance and accommodations for students with learning needs of all types?


  • What initiatives are we undertaking, through a marketing plan that includes target enrollment goals, to attract families from minority populations to our school?


  • How are we working to increase resources for scholarships and other forms of financial assistance to ensure that no student who desires a Catholic education is turned away?


  • What measures do we regularly take to recognize and celebrate all aspects of diversity among our students and their families?


Have a blessed Lent!


Kathleen A. Cepelka, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Catholic Schools

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