Brady Fischer, center, has played football and lacrosse at… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
The Cardinal Gibbons School is due to close in June, but sophomore Brady Fischer can't see trading Crusaders red for the purple togs of the rival Gaels of nearby Mount St. Joseph High School. His parents, meanwhile, have overruled his proposal to enroll at Archbishop Spalding in Severn, at least partly because, like Gibbons, it's operated by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, and they're still angry that the archdiocese is shutting Gibbons down.
"I'm not giving them a penny," Jayne Fischer said.
The Elkridge family is one of hundreds across the archdiocese wrestling with economics, logistics, faith, school loyalties and hurt feelings as they make plans for the 2,152 students to be displaced when the archdiocese closes 13 schools at the end of the academic year.
Families at Gibbons - the only high school on the list - have until today to send applications to the Catholic high schools that the archdiocese has identified as "receiving schools." Grade schools have set varying admissions deadlines, up to the start of the new academic year in September.
Some families have submitted applications; others are still making up their minds. Some plan to stay with a Catholic school; others are leaving the fold. In a system of roughly 21,000 students, some families and alumni are still holding out hope of reversing the closings announced early this month. They are part of a school reorganization plan that Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien said is necessary to sustain the system in the face of rising costs and declining enrollments.
Officially, the archdiocese says its goal is to keep all the displaced students in the system, but Monsignor Bob Hartnett, who headed the reorganization plan, says he would consider it a success if three-quarters of them return in the fall. The archdiocese has designated schools to take in displaced students, held fairs for families to meet with administrators and teachers and pledged to work with families on differences in tuition.
Mary L. Bunting has secured a spot for her daughter, Mary Beth, in the eighth grade at St. Augustine in Elkridge. Her son, Paul, is on a waiting list for the fourth grade there.
The Halethorpe woman likes St. Augustine for the "same community feel as Ascension," where her children currently are enrolled. But if Paul doesn't get in, she said, she won't consider another Catholic school.
"We are looking into public school for him," said Bunting. "I can't understand why the archdiocese is willing to lose any of these students."
Camille Burke hasn't made a decision about the next step for her daughter. She said Akira Tisdale, a fifth-grader at Mother Mary Lange on the East Side, "loves the school for the sense of family and community. I like the phenomenal staff."
The Park Heights woman went to a school fair earlier this month looking for options. While she said several Catholic schools were good prospects, she's also taking a close look at the public Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. Her daughter is on its waiting list for middle school. If that doesn't work out, Burke said, she might move to Baltimore County and enroll Akira in public school there.
"I am so disheartened and disenchanted with the archdiocese right now," she said. "My whole family, we are all products of Catholic education, and I wanted that for my daughter. But now it is highly unlikely."
When the closings were announced March 3, the archdiocese issued a list designating "receiving schools," and said that no student would have to travel more than five miles from their current school.
But the list that was first issued did not cover Gibbons. And it did not name the new location for the system's PRIDE program, which now offers classes for children with learning disabilities at Mother Mary Lange and Sacred Heart of Mary schools. Both of those schools are set to close.
Stacie Bahr was relieved to get the word just last week that the programs will be moving to St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale. That's a bit closer to her Rosedale home than Sacred Heart of Mary, where her son, Alex, has been taking PRIDE classes since last year. He's been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.
"It's been a long three weeks," Bahr said at the kitchen table, as she rubbed her face with her hands. "It's very overwhelming."
While she worries that Alex, who struggles with reading comprehension, will have difficulty adjusting to the new school and to possibly losing his PRIDE teacher, she said "I'm kind of OK with the decision" to continue at St. Clement.
Gibbons families are facing other complications. While the average tuition at the receiving grade schools is lower than that of the schools that are closing, most of the receiving high schools are more expensive than Gibbons.