By Stephanie Rosenblatt
You can see the signs from two blocks away: “I LOVE you Teachers! From Lila.” “BHCP Teachers are a community treasure that cannot be replaced.” “We will love + miss you. We will miss you lots!”
On May 26, the board of the Belmont Heights United Methodist Church came to a difficult and previously unthinkable decision: The Belmont Heights Church Preschool (BHCP) would permanently close due to health risks posed by COVID-19.
BHCP has been a neighborhood institution for over 60 years. Some local families have sent children to the school for multiple generations. The members of the Belmont Heights United Methodist Church, which ran the school, have a longstanding passion for early childhood education. According to Rev. Lisa Fitzpatrick, pastor at the church, early childhood education has been part of the church’s ministry since at least 1922 and several congregants are former preschool teachers. Church leadership has always included the financial support of the preschool in its long-term planning and has always subsidized the school’s work.
When BHCP initially closed on March 13 in compliance with the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home Order, everyone thought the 15 staff members and 140 children would be back in a few months. But as we all learned more about COVID-19 and how it was transmitted, it became increasingly difficult for church leadership to determine a safe reopening date.
Rev. Fitzpatrick said that when the church’s board met on May 26, no one thought they would be closing the school. It was only after considering all of the information available about COVID-19, including the possibility of children getting a multisystem inflammatory syndrome, that the decision was made.
“It was very painful. It’s been a ministry of our church for a very long time, ” Rev. Fitzpatrick said, “But, we did not feel that we could provide our children or our staff an environment that we felt was going to be safe.”
Once the board decided to close the school, teachers and staff were immediately notified. The school contacted parents the following day.
Rev. Fitzpatrick expressed regrets about how the news was shared, which was largely via email. “We wished we could have called everybody together and told them [in person] but we notified them in the only way that we could safely notify them,” Rev. Fitzpatrick said.
On behalf of the community, the Belmont Heights Community Association would like to join BHCP’s families by saying thanks to the congregation at the Belmont Heights United Methodist Church and to all of the staff and teachers who have taught the children of the Heights over the decades. Extra special thanks to those who have gotten a shout out on the schools’ fences: Ms. Margarita, Ms. Soriano, Ms. Chris, Ms. Sivhui, Ms. Lizzy, Ms. Dana, Ms. Ravi, Ms. Ruby, Ms. Kayla, Ms. Lisa, Ms. Kerry, Ms. Fontu, and Ms. Richards.
At this time it is unclear as to whether the church will consider reopening the preschool in the future. The Belmont Heights United Methodist Church remains closed for in-person worship but is conducting services via Zoom. If you’d like to attend a service or learn more about the church, please visit BelmontHeightsUMC.org.