While many parents grappled over the past year with whether to send their children to public school online or in-person, others considered a pandemic-era education imbued with religion.

One example: Inquiries, applications and transfer requests at St. Augustine High School in North Park were at an all-time high this academic year, said the school’s director of admissions, Paul Sipper.

While it’s not uncommon to have a waitlist at the all-boys Roman Catholic private school, there was a new intensity among families hoping to secure one of the 700 spots for students in grades nine through 12, he said.

There were more than 300 applications for prospective incoming freshmen. Requests to transfer to St. Augustine from other schools tripled, some from well-regarded public schools in Coronado, Point Loma, and Poway.

The draw: in-person education and athletics with requisite face masks and social distancing. When class-size limits called for more elbow room than a classroom could provide, students at St. Augustine were grouped into cohorts for alternating outdoor instruction.

“Parents saw how psychologically devastating being off campus was, so they sided with schools that had a plan,” said Sipper. “We earned the trust of our families and their friends.”

St. Augustine was aggressive in its push for in-person education: It even filed a lawsuit in August 2020 against Gov. Gavin Newsom seeking to prohibit the enforcement of shutdown orders that at the time prevented schools from reopening. In a press release touting its commitment to safety protocols, the school said it planned to use UV lights to sanitize the air, as well as “an electrostatic disinfecting mist system,” among other measures.

But St. Augustine wasn’t alone among its peers in the region. The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego pushed for as much in-person schooling as possible for its affiliated schools throughout San Diego and Imperial Valley. The initiative piqued the interest of parents looking at the educational system through pandemic-weary eyes – what was the expense of private school tuition compared to the cost of childcare, academic and social losses?

Catholic schools at all grade levels in San Diego saw a net increase in enrollment of at least 5 percent for the 2020-2021 academic year, according to Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego spokesperson Kevin Eckery. Depending on admission activity over the summer, enrollment could increase by 10 percent when schools open again in fall 2021….

The above comes from a June 15 story in the Voice of San Diego.