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Mount Carmel Going Coed Is ‘Off The Table’ For 2023 — But It Could Happen In The Future

“We certainly learned by listening to alumni, students, and you, our parents, that our timeline was too aggressive,” President Brendan Conroy told parents.

Mount Carmel students graduate in 2022.
Mount Carmel

WOODLAWN — Mount Carmel High School will delay going coed until at least after the 2023-24 academic year, officials said this weekend.

In June, leaders at the prestigious all-boys high school floated the idea of going coed as soon as fall 2023 as single-gender Catholic schools struggle to grow their enrollments. It led to fierce debate between those opposed to and those in favor of the suggestion.

But school officials have told parents no changes will take place for at least the next two school years, school President Brendan Conroy said in an email Sunday. A decision remains forthcoming on if Mount Carmel could go coed in the more distant future, he said.

“Coeducation is off the table for 2023. We have shared that with constituencies over the last 2-3 weeks,” Conroy wrote.

The school at 6410 S. Dante Ave. dates to 1900 when a small order of Carmelites established St. Cyril College for 13 students. The school has grown to about 600 students, building a reputation for its educational experience and athletics programs. It counts dozens of professional athletes among its alumni, including Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios and Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, as well a broad array of public officials, including Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

When school leaders announced they’d explore coeducation, they said fewer students are coming out of Mount Carmel’s traditional feeder academies — Catholic middle schools — making growth elusive for single-gender, parochial education.

The announcement triggered a flood of negative feedback from parents and alumni, many of whom said the school built its identity around its unique, all-male educational philosophy, and who questioned the logistics of admitting non-male students.

School leaders held forums and listening sessions to gather feedback. Reporters were not allowed to attend, but parents and alumni who attended said administrators told the crowds Mount Carmel’s enrollment has fallen from 806 students in 2002 to 580 students, and the Archdiocese of Chicago has lost half its students since 2002.

The negative feedback to coeducation seen online carried over to the listening sessions and forums, they said.

Sarah Hoehn, who has a rising junior at Mount Carmel and is opposed to the change, said no one spoke in favor of the move at the parents’ listening session she attended, although a few people discussed their preferred logistics if the school did make the decision to go coed. 

“It’s all negative,” Hoehn said.

The school surveyed current students and their parents, as well. Forty-one out of 63 students who responded said they would prefer the school remain all-boy. Of the 277 parents who responded, 113 said they would pull their son out of Mount Carmel if it became coeducational, while 42 said they would keep him enrolled. 

The numbers were slightly less skewed among surveys of middle-school parents and alumni, although they tended to show opposition to coeducation. Of 349 alumni from the class of 1987 through 2012 who responded, 97 expressed interest in sending their son to Mount Carmel if it became coeducational, while 194 said they were opposed. When asked if they would consider sending their daughters to Mount Carmel, 60 said they would consider it while 190 indicated they wouldn’t.

Among 402 middle school parents surveyed, 151 respondents said they would consider Mount Carmel if it was coed, while 207 said they wouldn’t. 

“We could stand to lose male students and not attract female students at rates higher than we expected,” administrators wrote in a message sent to parents and obtained by Block Club.

They said the decision to consider coeducation arose during a spring board meeting when administrators saw the school’s projected enrollment numbers for 2022-23. But they said their initial decision to consider coeducation by 2023 was abrupt. 

“We certainly learned by listening to alumni, students, and you, our parents, that our timeline was too aggressive,” Conroy wrote. “We know now — we have learned through this process of conversations — that we cannot go coed in 2023.”

The forums also raised the prospect of co-institutional education, meaning any student could attend Mount Carmel, but classes would be segregated by gender. If the school does decide to admit non-male students, Hoehn said that option could be a reasonable compromise, although she said there could be logistical issues, like hiring additional teachers and updating facilities. 

“I think that’s a much more palatable option,” she said.

The administration is set to make a final decision on coeducation in the coming weeks. In their initial message to the community, school officials said an announcement would come after their Aug. 9 and 10 board meeting. 

“We feel strongly that our parents and students deserve to know the direction of the school — all-male or coed — before the school year begins,” administrators wrote in the message to parents.

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