Judge Blocks Parents' Lawsuit

Injunction Would Have Kept Towson Catholic Open One More Year

July 25, 2009|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,matthew.brown@baltsun.com

No one said they were giving up. But students, parents and alumni at Towson Catholic High School seemed resigned to the school's closing after a Baltimore County judge rejected an effort to force it to open for another year.

"I'm just very, very disappointed," Lois Windsor, president of the Towson Catholic parents' association, said after the ruling Friday afternoon. "From here, we'll discuss with our attorneys where we go and make a decision that way. Right now, my main concern is getting my daughter now focused and supporting her in a new school."

Windsor and fellow Towson Catholic parent Judy Messina had sought an injunction that would have required the Archdiocese of Baltimore to open the school next month, as originally scheduled.

In a lawsuit filed last week, they argued that the decision to shut it down, which caught families by surprise when it was announced earlier this month, violated a contract with parents who already had paid tuition.

But Circuit Judge Ruth Jakubowski put an end to the effort during a preliminary hearing by denying their request for a temporary restraining order. The sides are due back in court on Aug. 5, when Jakubowski will hear arguments on a motion by the archdiocese to have the lawsuit dismissed.

A spokesman for the archdiocese said "there aren't any winners" in the ruling.

"The sad reality is that this school that educated kids for 86 years was forced to close," spokesman Sean Caine said. "Our focus remains on the causes that led to that closure, which are many of the same causes that threaten a lot of our schools, and on addressing the needs of the people who are most affected, which are the kids, obviously, helping them to find schools, and on helping the teachers and the faculty to find jobs."

The sudden closing has left families scrambling to make alternate plans for their children this fall. As recently as last month, Monsignor F. Dennis Tinder had told parents and staff that the school would reopen at the end of August.

Tinder, whose decision it was to close Towson Catholic, has expressed regret over the timing of the announcement, but says declining enrollment and unpaid tuitions left him with no other options. Officials at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which operated the school, say they were facing a $650,000 budget gap if they opened in the fall.

About 30 students, parents and alumni rallied outside the Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson on Friday, the latest of several such gatherings in recent weeks.

"I'm just processing it," Colette Coleman-Glover, a member of the Class of 1989, said after hearing the ruling. "We've been fighting really hard, doing all the rallies, all the fundraisers, everything, and it just feels so final."

Cristina Mastellone, 17, has been accepted at Mercy High School for her senior year. But if Towson Catholic reopens, she said, she would return "in a heartbeat."

"I still have hope, but I just don't know what they'd be able to do now," Mastellone said after the ruling. "I'm angry, I'm sad. It's like breaking a family apart."

Also likely to attend Mercy is Windsor's 16-year-old daughter, Elisa. The rising senior emerged from the hearing expressing surprise at the ruling.

"I thought the judge would have sympathy for all these kids that don't have a place to go," she said. "I feel so bad for everyone, including myself."

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