Monthly Archives: January 2011

Parents say summer vacation matters too

Not everyone is pleased with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ decision to extend the academic calendar by 20 days in its Catholic elementary schools.

Ava Baldwin, a former presdent of the Parent Teacher Organization at St. Joseph Elementary School, says any lengthening of the school year should be made after consulting with parents. "The vast majority of us don't see the need," she said. (Stephen Carr/Press-Telegram)

Nancy Brown, whose children attend St. Cornelius Catholic School, 3330 Bellflower Blvd., said time out of the classroom, for traveling, summer camp and family outings is just as important.

“The church has always said its focus is on the child as a whole,” she said. “There’s more to a child than just the academic production.”

“We prize our time with our children,” added dad Alex Fraga, whose two children attend St. Cornelius.

Paul Regan, whose children attend St. Joseph, said the diocese should consider adding 45 minutes to the school day, which would amount to the same time as a 20-day increase.

“Twenty days is too long; they’re basically adding another month,” he said. “There should be another way.”

The tuition increase will vary from school to school and the diocese has said it would work with low-income families.

The increase from a 180-day to a 200-day academic calendar will affect most of the diocese’s 210 elementary schools and more than 52,000 students in the archdiocese’s area, which includes schools in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

Long Beach’s Press-Telegram has more here.


Los Angeles archdiocese extending school year

Cardinal Roger Mahony announced last week that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is extending the school year for Catholic elementary schools by 20 days. 

The Tidings, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, has the story:

At a time when California public schools have fewer instructional days due to the state budget crisis, Catholic elementary schools in the archdiocese will be moving to an extended school year this fall, adding four weeks of instruction.

According to Kevin Baxter, archdiocesan superintendent of elementary schools, the plan as announced at a principals’ meeting last week is for as many schools as possible to adopt a 200-day academic calendar for the 2011-12 school year, increasing instruction by approximately 20 days.

All of the archdiocese’s 210 parish elementary schools, with an enrollment of 52,000 students, will be operating under the 200-day calendar by the 2012-13 school year. Local Catholic schools will retain flexibility in setting start and end dates for individual site calendars, though the academic year must conclude by June 30 each year.

The increase in the number of days will essentially add four weeks to the calendar, establishing an 11-month school year vs. the 10-month year currently maintained in alignment with California state requirements.

In 2009, due to the ongoing recession, the California legislature reduced the minimum number of days of schooling to 175 from the U.S. standard of a 180-day school year.

“The U.S. is kind of at the bottom with regard to length of the school year,” Baxter pointed out. “A lot of countries — like Indonesia, Japan, China and Singapore — have 220-230 days and they outperform us on international tests because we’re really in the middle of the pack.”

He noted that extending the academic calendar is a school reform idea that has been heralded for years, including recently by President Barack Obama.

“The relationship between more substantive, effective time in an academic setting and increased student performance is clear and the elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles are responding to this critical national issue in order that our students grow up to be successful leaders in the global workforce,” said Baxter.

Under the extended school year plan, elementary schools will have 200 academic days, plus three designated teacher development days and one day allocated for spiritual retreat. The 10 percent increase in instructional time will result in a 10 percent increase in salaries for staff. An increase in tuition cost is expected at most schools, although anticipated enrollment increases may offset the level of increase.

More here.

BREAKING NEWS: Federal Court strikes down Baltimore pregnancy center sign law

Major news out of Baltimore.  A federal court just struck down a Baltimore law that required the posting of specific signs at pro-life pregnancy centers .

Here’s a clip from a story I just finished for The Catholic Review:

U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled Jan. 28 in Baltimore that it is unconstitutional to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government.

The ruling was a major victory for the Archdiocese of Baltimore, which had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 requiring the posting of signs at pro-life pregnancy centers stating that they do not provide abortion and birth control.

The archdiocese argued that such signs were a violation of First Amendment rights and that the law unfairly targeted pro-life pregnancy centers while no such signs were required of pro-choice centers indicating which services they don’t provide.

“The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable,” Judge Garbis wrote. “Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice,’ it is for the provider – not the government – to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods.”

Judge Garbis said the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, “require a ‘pro life’ pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.”

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien, who had actively campaigned against the law when it was being considered by the Baltimore City Council, called the ruling a “clear victory both for pregnant women in need of assistance and for First Amendment principles we treasure in a free society.”

In a written statement following the ruling, the archbishop said crisis pregnancy centers were an “integral part” of the archdiocese’s efforts to help women looking for help carrying their babies to term.

“In Baltimore, these centers assist thousands of women every year who are trying to embrace the gift of life in their unborn children,” Archbishop O’Brien said. “And this ruling allows the important and compassionate work of these pro-life pregnancy centers to continue without interference from Baltimore City which sought to target these centers because they are pro-life.”

The archbishop added that “The ruling also upholds the constitutional rights under the First Amendment that protect private citizens such as those who work and volunteer in pregnancy centers from having to convey a government-mandated message.”

David W. Kinkopf, an attorney with Gallagher, Evelius and Jones who represented Archbishop O’Brien at an Aug. 4 hearing in Baltimore on the issue, said the ruling was a “great victory” for pro-life pregnancy centers and the Freedom of Speech.

Kinkopf noted that the ruling holds that because the city was regulating “core-protected speech” and not merely “commercial speech,” there was heightened scrutiny under the First Amendment.

“We think the judge got it right when he basically said there’s no place for the government to single specific speakers out for unfair speech regulation,” Kinkopf said. “The kind of speech these pregnancy centers are engaged in is not commercial speech -it’s deeply personal, moral and very important speech that deserves the full protection of the First Amendment.”

Click here to read the rest.  The Catholic Review will have much more on this story.

BIG NEWS! Federal Court rules in favor of Archdiocese of Baltimore on pregnancy center sign law

This story just broke in Baltimore.  I’m working on it now, but here’s a quick snip from a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Marvin J. Garbis.

The judge ruled today that it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL to require pro-life pregnancy centers to post signs with language mandated by the government. The Archdiocese of Baltimore had challenged a Baltimore City law passed in 2009 that required the posting of such signs.

Stay tuned. Much, much more to come!

The Court holds that the Ordinance violates the Freedom of Speech Clause of Article I of the Constitution of the United States and is unenforceable. Whether a provider of pregnancy-related services is “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” it is for the provider–not the government–to decide when and how to discuss abortion and birth-control methods. The Government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, require a “pro life” pregnancy-related service center to post a sign as would be required by the Ordinance.

– Marvin J. Garbis, United States District Judge

 UPDATED: Here’s a link to the complete story.


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Thanks to everyone who is stopping by!

Legendary fencing instructor killed by snow plow

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Richard Oles, a well-known 77-year-old Baltimore fencing instructor who once coached at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, was struck and killed by a truck with a snow plow early this morning. The vehicle’s driver left the scene of the accident, according to The Sun. 

Just over a year ago, I profiled Mr. Oles for a senior section in The Catholic Review.  He was an unforgettable character – a bit on the gruff side and wholly committed to sharing his love of swordplay.  Below is my 2009 story on Mr. Oles. May he rest in peace.

Expert fencer Richard Oles heads the Tri Weapon Club located in Homeland. (Catholic Review/Owen Sweeney III)

Richard Oles was walking around the campus of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore when his ears picked up precise, metallic clinking sounds emanating from one of the sports practice rooms. Intrigued, the college student peeked inside and was even more amazed by what he saw.

“All I heard was ‘click, click, click,’” the 76-year-old Baltimore native remembered. “It was a lot of guys in white and they were fencing. I didn’t even know college fencing existed.”

Long a fan of Errol Flynn and other swashbucklers from the movies, Oles decided to join the team. It wouldn’t take long before he more than matched the skills of the swordsmen of the silver screen.

Oles won numerous state championships and was a member of the USA Masters’ team that won the World Masters’ Championship in London in 1970. He was the legendary coach of the Hopkins’ fencing team from 1960-2003, renowned for taking men with no fencing background and transforming them into top-notch competitors.

Now retired from Hopkins, the senior fencer doesn’t seem to have slowed down much. He heads the Tri-Weapon Club, the only fencing club in the Baltimore-Washington-Annapolis area designed for boys rather than adults. He also works with adults in the Salle Palasz program.

Sitting in his North Baltimore practice facility, located in the lower level of the Knights of Columbus Hall on Homeland Avenue, Oles relished his role as a coach. Having the opportunity to teach young people to fence is more than giving them sports skills, he said. It’s also about helping them cultivate discipline and character.

“You can take a kid who has never been good at anything and make him into something,” said Oles, who wore a grey T-shirt emblazoned with one word in capital letters: “COACH”

Concentration is the most important skill in fencing, according to Oles, who grew up in St. William of York parish in Baltimore and graduated from Loyola Blakefield in Towson.

“You have to coordinate the hand and feet and brain and do it in such a way so your opponent doesn’t know what you’re doing,” said Oles, a former fencing coach at The John Carroll School in Bel Air. “That requires concentration – which is another thing modern youth lacks.”

Oles specializes in all three of his sport’s weapons: foil, épée and sabre. Each weapon is suited to a different personality, he said. Before a new student picks up any of the weapons, Oles administers a questionnaire to match the personality with the weapon.

The sabre, which a fencer may use to stab and slash to score points, is attractive to an aggressive personality, Oles said. The épée, a dueling sword used to score points by simply touching an opponent’s body, is a more suited to a person who can demonstrate patience. The foil is used to score point by hitting the torso. Students wear protective gear and an electronic device that lights up a scoring bulb when a hit is made.

To be successful in the sport, a person has to “hang with it,” Oles said. Those who have done just that have gone far. The Tri-Weapon Club has produced three national under-16 champions. Three of the top four places in the 1993 U.S. national sabre championship were claimed by club graduates – two of whom fenced on the 1988 and 1992 Olympic teams.

“The kids nowadays have so many things to do, they try it for six weeks or so and quit,” Oles lamented.

Oles has a message for those who think fencing isn’t as demanding as other sports. “Fencing is as hard as football,” Oles said. “It requires tremendous speed, timing and stamina. It’s a tough sport.”

VIDEO REPORT: Mount de Sales stands up for life

There are many parishes and schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore that strongly support the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville is one of the most passionate. For the 25th year, students from the all-girls school have participated in the march – traveling to the capital in six buses Jan. 24. 

Check out the following video report on the school’s appearance at the march and be sure to read this week’s Catholic Review for full coverage of the March for Life. We feature a compelling story about a Hunt Valley woman who has a very personal experience with abortion.

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