Parents protest longer academic year for Catholic schools
Several dozen parents protested Thursday outside the Los Angeles archdiocese plans for a longer academic year at Catholic schools.
The parents from at least eight schools are unhappy that church officials plan to extend the school year by 20 days to 200 days a year.
“Children need a break to rejuvenate and the time to try things they can’t during the school year because they’re overloaded,” said Michelle Boydston, whose daughter attends St. Paul the Apostle School in Westwood. “Children need time to play outside, to sit, climb a tree, read a book. Our school is doing a very good job in terms of educating students. They don’t need another 20 days.”
For the archdiocese, the strategy is intended to improve the education program and provide an incentive for parents to choose to remain in Catholic schools, which charge tuition.
Some Catholic schools have been hard hit by the economic downturn and by competition from charter schools, which are independently run but publicly financed and free to parents.
Many local public school systems, including Los Angeles Unified, have temporarily shortened the school year from 180 days to 175 days because of budget deficits. Archdiocese schools have 30,000 open seats, and nine schools are in jeopardy of closing, officials said.
The archdiocese’s plan has generated praise and backlash. Protesters said parents from diverse backgrounds have expressed reservations about the longer school year, especially accompanied by higher tuition.
“For me personally, it’s the longer school year,” said Boydston. “But I do think the increase of tuition will be difficult for lots of families, including families at our school.”
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles backed away from its original announcement, characterizing the longer school year as a “recommendation” for its 210 elementary schools. But parents at the protest said they were told the flexibility pertained only to when to schedule the 20 extra days and to giving schools until the 2012-13 school year to switch to the longer schedule.
On Thursday the archdiocese reiterated that local school administrators, working with parents, will make the decision. About 70% of elementary schools across its three-county area already have decided to adopt the longer calendar for next year, said Carolina Guevara, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
Parents said they remain concerned.
“We just want the families to have some say in this,” said Christi Catalano, who has three children in Catholic schools and hopes to enroll her twins in kindergarten next year. “The decision was so secretive, so sudden.”
She said she’s considering enrolling her children in the local public schools.
-- Howard Blume
Photo: Parent Whitney Stropp leads a group of about 50 other parents and families in a protest in front of the offices of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles Thursday. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times