Nine Church of Ireland bishops have strongly criticised cuts to small schools, which they say will have a major and destructive impact on Protestant communities across the country.
In a statement the bishops said the staffing cuts will have a disproportionate impact on Church of Ireland schools.
They said it amounts to a test case of the nation's commitment to citizens who belong to religious minorities.
The bishops said of the 174 schools of which they are patron, 130 are classified as small schools and will be directly affected by cuts in mainstream class teachers.
They called this a dramatic statistic and said no other single issue has caused such a degree of anxiety among their communities in recent years.
They pointed out that many small Church of Ireland schools, especially those in rural areas, cannot be amalgamated.
The bishops said the staffing cuts mean 38 of their schools may now have to become one teacher schools and said this is tantamount to a decision to close them.
They said they accept that some rationalisation may be possible, but that that is easier in urban areas.
The statement was issued following a recent meeting of the Patrons of Church of Ireland Schools.