Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten

Education Minister confident Catholic boards will meet anti-bullying criteria

  • December 7, 2011

TORONTO - Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten praised the anti-bullying initiatives undertaken by Ontario Catholic school boards and said she is “very confident” that Catholic schools can fulfill new government requirements to make schools safer.

Broten told The Catholic Register that she was “pleased when we launched the comprehensive action plan last week” and “standing side by side with Catholic teachers and trustees, each and every one of them was standing up against bullying.”

The McGuinty government introduced its anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, on Nov. 30. It  targets all types of bullying, including bullying based on race, gender, religion and sexual orientation, and will allow schools to permanently expel bullies.

Bill 13 will also permit students to organize support groups that can be called gay-straight alliances (GSAs) to combat bullying based on sexual orientation. But, the premier added, these groups can operate under a name other than GSAs.

“The important thing is we’re going to have that kind of a supportive group there available in all our schools,” he said.

Broten said the government’s message has been consistent on the need to create “safe schools” and having activities and groups that “promote awareness, understanding of and respect for people of all sexual orientation and gender identities, including (gay-straight alliances) or another name.”

She said that the “specific wording” of the bill leaves her “very confident” that Catholic schools can comfortably satisfy the government requirement.

“It is absolutely important that students of every race, religion, culture, community, ethnicity and sexual orientation, that every single one of those students are safe, included and accepted in our schools,” she said.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said she supports the revised legislation. She said Catholic school trustees, bishops and parent groups are continuing to finalize a framework for school boards that will address all types of bullying, not just for students with same-sex attractions.

“We had been looking at (the framework) based on the (former) mandate of the ministry regarding same-sex students, but if you look at the legislation now, it’s in broader terms: racism, disability, (gender), sexual orientation,” Kirby said.

“(The clubs) could be more general because that’s what the legislation talks about.”

If there were a separate template for anti-bullying clubs specific to students with same-sex attraction, Kirby said these clubs would reflect Catholic teachings and values and would not be called GSAs.

That name, she said, has become “very controversial.”

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