Poughkeepsie Plan

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A compromise educational plan initiated in New York State in 1873 in an attempt to avoid Church State conflict while maintaining the cooperation of both. It was similar in purpose to the plans from 1831 to 1852 in Lowell, Mass., and 1891 in Faribault and Stillwater, Minn. (see faribault plan; lowell plan).

On June 11, 1873, Rev. Patrick F. McSweeny, pastor of St. Peter's church, Poughkeepsie, with the approval of Abp. (later Cardinal) John McCluskey of the Archdiocese of New York, proposed a compromise arrangement with the public board of education on behalf of his parish school for boys on Mill Street and for girls on Clover Street. The board of education approved the plan on July 16 and signed the document on August 21, with Egbert Q. Eldridge acting for the Poughkeepsie board of education. Henceforth the schools were known as School 11 (which enrolled 413 pupils in the first year of the new arrangement) and School 12 (322 pupils).

This plan called for the school board to pay St. Peter's Church $1 per year for each of the school buildings and their furniture, each of the buildings constituting thenceforth a public school. The board was to care for the repair and insurance of the buildings, which were to be under the board's control during school hours, but at other times to revert to the owners. During school hours, the board's authority was to be as complete as in other public schools: teachers were to be selected, employed, paid, and subject to dismissal by the board; non-Catholics as well as Catholic pupils were to be admissible by board regulation and subject to the board's rules during school hours; and the schools were to be subject to visitation by members of the board. Either the board or the owners could terminate the lease at the end of any scholastic year by giving 30 days' notice. No religious exercises were to be held or religious instruction given during school hours, and no child was compelled to attend religious exercises given after school hours and during lunch hour except by parental wish. The Catholic teachers, including some nuns, were retained, and it was tacitly understood that Catholics would continue to be hired for these schools, provided they were equally competent with other teachers under the board's supervision.

The plan for the most part seemed satisfactory: an 1875 inspection by Wolcott Calkins, a Presbyterian minister and bitter foe of Catholicism, went well; Abp. John ireland lauded it in 1890; in 1898 it was praised by Orlando D. M. Baker, president of the board of education of Poughkeepsie, and by Charles W. eliot, president of Harvard. But there was some dissatisfaction: in 1887 Andrew S. Draper, state superintendent of public instruction, declared it illegal to employ as a public school teacher anyone wearing "an unusual garb worn exclusively by members of one religious sect"; in 1889 Bp. Bernard J. McQuaid of Rochester voiced disapproval for "many Catholics"; in 1890, Rev. James Nilan, McSweeny's successor, complained of some "harsh and witless" Catholic criticism. From 1891 the plan became involved in the heated debate aroused by Rev. Thomas Bouquillon, professor of moral theology at The Catholic University of America, whose pamphlet, Education: To Whom Does It Belong?, granted a wider right to the state in education than had been traditional among American Catholics (see bouquillon controversy). State Superintendent Charles R. Skinner in 1896 opposed the plan as "unwise as a matter of school policy, and a violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution" and on Dec. 23, 1898, ordered its discontinuance. Church authorities immediately complied; Nilan reopened School No. 11 as a parochial school on Jan. 3, 1899, and leased School No. 12 to the city until 1902. Similar plans in other localities of the state (e.g., Lima, Corning, West Bridge, Niagara, Watervliet, and Ogdensburg) were also affected by Skinner's ruling. On April 17, 1906, the court of appeals of New York State, in the Lima case of O'Connor v. Hendrick, affirmed the decision, citing art. 9, sec. four of the New York State constitution, which prohibited the appropriation of public funds for schools wholly or partly under sectarian auspices.

Bibliography: e. m. connors, Church-State Relationships in Education in the State of New York (Washington 1951).

[h. a. buetow]