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‘It’s the end of an era’: Brethren Christian High School closes after 73 years of operation

Brethren Christian High School in Huntington Beach.
Brethren Christian High School in Huntington Beach.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Schools aren’t supposed to close down, Nicole Donahoe said.

But her own was — and only one year after she graduated from Brethren Christian High School in 2019.

Coaches and a parent of a recent graduate of the private Huntington Beach school confirmed Tuesday that they received emails stating that the school would be closing ahead of the 2020-21 school year, with alumni saying that they found out through social media. Leon Green, the head football coach the last two seasons, said that Brethren Christian was closing due to declining enrollment and financial difficulties.

“It financially was too much of a burden and there just was not enough money coming in to keep the doors open,” Green said on Wednesday. “The student body numbers have just dropped too much. The biggest thing was that they didn’t want to close, but to counteract that; they would have had to let go of teachers to supplement the loss of income and that would have compromised education for the students.”

The school did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday and Wednesday. School staff also declined to comment in-person on Wednesday morning.

The school was located at the Gisler Middle School campus on 21141 Strathmoor Lane until recently after a long-term lease with the Huntington Beach City School District ended last year.

The school relocated to 6931 Edinger Ave. just last year, making Donahoe part of the last graduating class of students at the Gisler campus, where Brethren Christian had been located since 2008.

The Gisler property was sold to home developers for $42 million.

The quad area at Brethren Christian High School.
The quad area at Brethren Christian High School.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“I don’t know anyone who went to a school and then … you don’t go to school and then [the] school closes down,” Donahoe said. “That’s not a thing.”

Emails requesting comment were not answered as of Tuesday evening by Brethren Christian Supt. Matthew Chavez.

Brethren Christian School was founded in 1947 and it was first located at Seal Beach Brethren Church, before expanding to Long Beach and Paramount, then moving to Cypress and eventually to Huntington Beach.

Donahoe said she heard the news on Instagram on Monday while she was signing up for her college classes this fall semester.

“I don’t know. It’s such a strange thing and it makes me sad because there’s so many memories ... at [Gisler],” Donahoe said, “and then the school moved from that location. There was already that [move] that made me upset and sad.”

“Now the school’s closing, it just makes it more really, really sad for me,” Donahoe said. “It’s a really bittersweet thing. My freshman year, it was amazing and it was great. My senior year, it felt like it was going to end. We all kind of knew it, but we kind of expected it to happen.”

Like Donahoe, Jack McInally, 25, said he heard about the closure through social media, specifically basketball coach Jeff Jefferson’s Instagram. McInally, a 2014 graduate, described the news as something that “broke [his] heart.”

“I went there for six years. I went there in junior high, too. Seventh through eighth. I worked at Brethren for three more,” McInally said. “It was tough.”

But McInally said that he felt that “Brethren wasn’t really Brethren the last three, four years.”

“It was slowly becoming something different from the Brethren we knew and loved,” said McInally, who worked as the office coordinator for the school’s football team, but now works at Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana. “We were all distanced in the first place, so then, it was almost like we thought it was going to die three years ago, not that it was going to survive three more.”

Brethren Christian High School is closing down after 73 years.
Brethren Christian High School.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

For him, McInally said he felt it was only a matter of time.

His father, Pat McInally, who coached football at the high school for six years, said he had a lot of great memories at the school and felt it was disheartening to see small Christian schools close.

“Another victim of today’s economy and the challenge of keeping these small schools afloat,” Pat McInally said.

Green called the closure an end of an era.

“There’s a lot of good things that the school’s been able to do while it was open and just, unfortunately due to the times and everything that’s going on, they’re not able to push past this hurdle,” said Green, a Brethren Christian alumnus.

Green said he’s been in touch with his players, but that he felt there were no answers to be provided as much as there were questions.

“I knew people whose grandparents had gone to Brethren, whose parents went to Brethren, they’ve gone to Brethren,” Jack McInally said. “It’s tough in that sense that they won’t be able to send their kids there, but that’s life.”

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