Posted December 19, 201812:00 pm
Urban Community School and Cleveland Catholic Diocese sever ties due to contraception service planned at new MetroHealth clinic on campus
The Urban Community School (UCS) and the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland have severed ties over plans to offer prescriptions for contraceptions at a community clinic that will be built next spring by the school and the MetroHealth System on the campus at West 48th Street and Lorain Avenue.
Details of the parting were outlined in a December 17 letter to UCS supporters and parents, written by school president Tom Gill.
In October, the school’s board voted to approve the $8 million, 32,560-square-foot clinic that will offer USC and the Near West Side community services that include primary, urgent and behavioral health care; a Cleveland Food Bank pharmacy; a Legal Aid Society of Cleveland office, and United Way 211 services, among others.
Clinic construction is anticipated to start early in 2019, with opening a year later.
In his letter, Gill wrote that after the board’s vote, a meeting about the clinic was held at the Bishop’s office.
“Our hope was to pursue the clinic while retaining our existing relationship with the Diocese and our Ursuline [Sisters of Cleveland] sponsorship,” Gill wrote. “Unfortunately, we were informed that, given Catholic teaching, such an outcome was impossible.
“Consequently, UCS will no longer be considered a Catholic institution and may no longer be accredited as a Catholic school by the Ohio Catholic School Accrediting Association,” he added.
Gill also noted that “as a public hospital system, MetroHealth cannot adhere to the ethical and religious directives of the Catholic Church. Since contraceptive referrals – a healthcare service that is contrary to those Catholic directives – will be available at the new clinic, Urban Community School cannot partner with MetroHealth and remain canonically Catholic.”
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland issued a statement regarding the UCS clinic that said: “While the Diocese supports the inclusion of health clinics in school environments to ensure that students, families and local communities have access to needed healthcare services, compliance with the Ethical and Religious Directives for Healthcare Services of the Church is vitally important to ensure that healthcare is delivered in a manner that is consistent with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.”
In a phone interview, Gill said, “It’s painful that the whole project is being boiled down to that one issue. There’s so much good stuff there. The reality is that contraception is just one component of the overall project. It’s not like we woke up one day and wanted to pick a fight with the Bishop.
“We respect the doctrine and accept that this is a consequence of our decision,” he added.
Gill said he has, and is meeting with students’ parents this week and so far most of the response to the clinic project has been positive.
The school has 585 students in pre-school through eighth grade, most from families living at or below the poverty level.
In his letter, Gill said UCS will still “provide ecumenical religious education, host all-school prayer services, provide opportunities for Catholic children and families to attend Mass, and continue to strengthen and grow the spirituality of our children and families.
“Catholic religious education and sacramental preparation, however, will not be provided at UCS and will instead take place at one’s parish,” he added.
The school will pursue accreditation through the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS), according to Gill.
He noted that the association accredits other area schools including Gilmour Academy, Laurel School, University School, Hawken, Hathaway Brown, and Western Reserve Academy.
The Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland helped found the school 50 years ago and entered into a formal sponsorship with the school in 2006.
That sponsorship will end but not the group’s involvement with the school, according to Sister Susan Durkin, president of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland and a UCS board member.
In a statement she issued, Durkin said, “Going forward, Ursuline sisters may still choose to serve in the school and on the Board at the invitation of the Board and its President. We believe that the UCS tradition of excellence will continue beyond our formal sponsorship, always bearing witness to its Ursuline spirit and heritage.”
Gill also said three Sisters will remain on the 100-member school faculty and staff. “They know the need, they know our families and they know the mission,” he said.
“I have confidence in our teachers and aides and leadership team to continue to ground our decisions on what is best for our kids and families,” he added. “That’s what is most important. As painful as the rest of this stuff is, we base our decisions on what’s best for kids and family, and we feel this [clinic] meets that criteria.”
Gill said the need for a clinic was based on community surveys and “some best practices nationally” showing that children and families are more likely to get health care when it is located in or close to school.
A clinic also could impact school attendance, according to Gill. “There are really strong correlations that the more kids are at school, the better they do,” he said. “This good for school, and really good for the community.”
UCS board president Joseph Juster said the clinic was part of a three-phase program of improvements at the school that started with installation of squash courts and classrooms this year.
The clinic is the second part, and the third phase will be creation of an early childhood (birth through age 3) program.
Juster noted that “religious education and spiritual education, regardless of faith,” will continue at UCS where about a third of the students are Catholic.
Juster said the board knew it could face opposition from the diocese in approving the MetroHealth clinic.
“The church’s hands were tied, and we knew the potential consequences,” he noted. “Weighing that against having readily accessible health care right on our campus, where our families could take advantage of it, easily seemed to be right in line with our mission.”
He added, “Whether the diocese considers us to be Catholic has no bearing whatsoever on our values and practices which are, and shall remain unchanged, and that is to educate the whole child, whatever faith they are, academically, physically, spiritually, socially and emotionally."
Juster said UCS considered working with other local institutions for the clinic project, that might fit better with Catholic doctrine, but decided that MetroHealth was the “ideal partner in our mission of providing health care in the West Side community.”
Juster echoed Gill’s sentiments regarding the clinic’s potential impact on students.
“They can’t learn unless they’re in school, and if they’re healthy and eating right and getting sleep and being diagnosed early on with issues, all of this going to help,” he said.
“A lot of these kids’ lives can be pretty tumultuous, and dealing with that, having behavioral clinicians on hand, will help our teachers and kids.”
Noting that some 80,000 clinic visits are expected annually, Juster said, “The impact on families and kids is going be tremendous.
“It’s just going to be awesome.”