Lakeland's oldest private school announces closure, citing drop in enrollment

Lakeland’s oldest private school is closing. Late last week, the Diocese of Orlando sent an email to the parents of kids who go to St. Joseph's Academy in Lakeland.

The email, signed by Rev. Timothy LaBo, pastor of St. Joseph's Church, said the decision has been made to, “merge Saint Joseph Academy with our existing schools in Polk County: Resurrection Catholic School in Lakeland, St. Joseph Catholic School in Winter Haven, and the Neumann Early Learning Academy in Lakeland.”

The Diocese of Orlando, which covers Lakeland, attributes the closing in part to the coronavirus. A spokesman says a lot of families are struggling financially because of the pandemic and enrollment has dropped by almost 30%.

Parents tell FOX 13 COVID-19 is not the only problem. They say the school, which is on Frank Lloyd Wright Way, has been struggling financially for years.

“When the school moved here in 2009, it ended up creating a debt of over 6 million dollars,” said Anna O’Neil.

O’Neil has posted an online petition on in hopes of keeping the school open for at least another year. That, she says, would give parents time to make other plans.

More than three hundred people signed within a few days.

"If we could find a bunch of people to donate, even a dollar at a time,” she said.

She hates the idea of going elsewhere.

“The faculty and staff here love your children, love them so much,” she commented.

Her six-year-old son, Clyde was in first grade at St. Joseph's. She hoped that her 4-year-old daughter, Amelia would be able to go to kindergarten there in 2021.