Schools are tolerant

By 
  • January 26, 2011
Last November the Halton Catholic District School board passed an equity policy that explicitly banned gay-straight alliances. Following an outcry from gay activists, a new board of trustees cancelled that policy and replaced it with one that, although making no mention of gay-straight alliances, was widely interpreted as an endorsement of the controversial after-school clubs and a victory for those who would see Catholic values trumped in schools by secular morality.

If that were indeed true, it would be a sad day for Catholic education. The primary role of trustees is to be faithful guardians of the morals and values that are the bedrock of Catholic education. So what happened in Halton?

For starters, despite media interpretations, the board has not approved gay-straight alliances. It replaced the policy that banned the clubs with an interim one that still allows the board to ban them, although it remains unclear if that will happen.

Halton has joined several other Ontario jurisdictions in adopting the so-called Catholic template policy drafted last year by the Ontario Education Services Corporation in consultation with Ontario bishops and Catholic educators. That policy meets requirements for schools to proactively promote tolerance, equity and inclusiveness. While the government endorses gay-straight alliances, it recognizes the constitutional right of Catholic boards to stay faithful to Catholic teaching, and therefore the government proposes gay-straight alliances as an option, not a requirement.

So, as it stands, the government policy is in alignment with the position adopted in Halton and supported by the bishops even though there is disagreement on gay-straight alliances. For that matter, Halton’s November policy also conformed with the positions of the government and bishops.

The Church gets a bad rap on this issue. The government enacted its equity policy in 2008. Many Ontario Catholic schools, following recommendations by the bishops in 2004, put policies in place years before that to create learning environments that strive to be free of bullying and harassment — for all students.

Catholic schools have been at the forefront of promoting tolerance and charity. So it is grating when educators and Church leaders are themselves objects of derision, called homophobes among various slurs, because their strategy for combating intolerance differs from methods preferred by activists and others who seem blind to the irony of advancing their own beliefs through bullying.

There are lessons to learn from this episode. Educators must never waiver in promoting the distinctive religious values of Catholic education. Also, along with the bishops, they need to be better communicators to counteract the misinformation that makes tantalizing headlines and, ultimately, could threaten the very existence of publicly funded Catholic education.

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