As Paul VI Catholic High School weighs a move to Loudoun County, parents and community members are campaigning for the school to stay put at its current City of Fairfax location.
Paul VI has been at its present address on Fairfax Boulevard since opening its doors in 1983. But the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, which operates Paul VI, announced in December that it would pursue a relocation for the school to eastern Loudoun County.
In the weeks following the announcement, disgruntled Paul VI parents and community members congregated on social media to voice their discontent. Early January saw the start of a “Keep PVI in Fairfax” Facebook page, which as of Tuesday afternoon had 332 likes.
On Feb. 4, a related petition was posted on Change.org. The petition is directed at the Diocese of Arlington, which administers Paul VI and most other Catholic schools in the county. It had collected 259 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon, exactly four weeks after it was started.
Many signatories were current or prospective Paul VI parents who live in and around Fairfax. Silvia Neves, whose two daughters currently attend PVI, cited not only the convenience of the location but the strength of the community that has formed around the school.
“We just see this incredible community that has been built,” Neves said. “And a move will drastically impact that tight-knit community. It will be torn. As a person who really believes in Catholic education, I really believe there will be a big hole left in Fairfax County.”
Paul VI is the only one of the four diocesan-operated high schools located in Fairfax County. Of the three others, one is in Arlington County, one is in Prince William County, and one is in the City of Alexandria.
The source of petitioners’ anger is not only the proposed move, but the manner the diocese has gone about it.
Robin and Paul Mack said they were blindsided by the diocese’s December announcement. The Fairfax City residents have a son in 11th grade at Paul VI and a son in fifth grade who they hope to send to the school. The Macks said the diocese offered little opportunity for community input on the decision to pursue a relocation, and they are left feeling disenfranchised.
“They left us in the dark,” Robin Mack said. “The community makes the school what it is, but they haven’t shared the decision-making process, or even the reasoning behind it. Not to say anything, that’s what has broken our hearts”
The choice to seek a relocation for Paul VI offered the best option for the school in the long-term, diocesan spokesman Mike Donohue said in an email.
“The diocese has sought to be as transparent as possible about its intentions as we set to craft a strategic plan carrying Paul VI High School into a successful future,” Donohue said.
Still, the Arlington Diocese recognizes that not everyone in the community is on board.
“We have heard from some who are very excited by the prospect of a move and from others who are understandably attached to the present facility and disappointed,” Donohue said.
But the school is near-capacity with an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, and expansion on the 18-acre Fairfax campus has proved unfeasible, according to Donohue, all factors that have played into the decision to look into a switch to Loudoun.
The diocese already owns land in South Riding, located at the intersection of Riding Center Drive and Braddock Road about three miles west of the Fairfax County line. At 68 acres, this proposed campus offers almost quadruple the space of the current lot in Fairfax.
Donohue stressed that diocesan officials are still determining the feasibility of such a move, and there remain logistical and financial hurdles to jump. A relocation would not take place before 2020 at the earliest.
“The diocese will continue to update stakeholders as this process continues and the feasibility of the proposed move is determined,” Donohue said.