Equity policy won't trample Catholic rights

  • December 2, 2010
Teacher pupilsTORONTO - Ontario Catholic schools will not be required under the province’s controversial equity and inclusive education strategy to maintain gay support clubs, according to a ministry spokesman.

Gary Wheeler said in an e-mail that the province’s new equity policy, which has sparked concern from Ontario bishops and Catholic educators, has “flexibility” that will permit Catholic boards to operate “within the context of denominational rights of Roman Catholics.”

In an October statement to Ontario Catholic boards, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario urged educators to craft a “Catholic version” of the provincial equity policy that was in keeping with the bishops’ pastoral guidelines. Those guidelines do not support the section of the McGuinty government policy that recommends gay-straight alliances at Ontario’s publicly funded schools.

The bishops expressed concern that Catholic schools might be required to promote gay-straight alliances, popular in the United States, in which openly gay students join with straight students to discuss gay issues.

Wheeler said the ministry “does not mandate each school to have a gay-straight alliance.”

“However, if a student requests to have a supportive group, such as Gay/Straight Alliances or Students and Teachers Against Racism, the school should support these activities to promote and encourage an inclusive and respectful school environment,” he added.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said OCSTA supports the bishops’ position.

“We were up front with the government,” she said. “That would not be part of our mandate.”  

She said that publicly funded Catholic schools will reflect Catholic values and teachings under the new policy.

According to the Ontario bishops’ 1987 guidelines for family life education, homosexual students “have personal rights to be respected and a special need to grow in self-worth. However, no pastoral method can be employed which would condone homosexual genital relations, for they are contrary to the essential nature of the sexual act,” the bishops said.

School boards are required to implement the government’s new equity and inclusive education strategy within a year.  To comply, several Catholic school boards met with the trustees’ association, Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario and the Institute for Catholic Education to develop a Catholic template and guideline document for Catholic boards.

Kirby said this template will teach students about equity and inclusive education “with the morals and values of our Catholic teachings.” It focuses on two key areas of the province’s strategy: religious accommodation and integrating diversity into curriculum.

On religious accommodation, Catholic boards decided the school chapel would be reserved for Catholic services only while there would be another school space for formal non-Catholic services. As for curriculum changes, boards agreed to interpret the ministry’s policy based upon Catholic values and teachings, while supporting the Ontario bishops’ position against gay-straight alliances.

For the few alliances currently existing in Catholic schools, they would likely be changed or integrated into diversity or equity clubs which involve tackling other diversity issues.

Kirby said Catholic school material will reflect the province’s mandate but “there is nothing in the curriculum ... that says you have to agree with the lifestyle of somebody who is gay or lesbian.”

“But what the Church does say is we have to love those people and have to make sure they’re in a learning environment that is safe and inclusive,” she added.

Don Drone, chair of  the English Council of Catholic Directors of Education, said although the council does not have an official position on the equity strategy, most Catholic directors of education “welcomed it” unofficially and would adapt the ministry’s equity policy while asserting schools’ denominational rights.

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