Bruce Campbell, general manager of communications and community relations at the Dufferin-Peel board

Respecting Difference high on the agenda at Dufferin-Peel equity conference

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  • April 29, 2012

BRAMPTON, ONT. - Staff from the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board came together April 21 to examine how to enhance equality, equity and inclusiveness in their school communities.

The Dufferin-Peel board’s 8th Annual (IN)Equity Conference was held at St. Marguerite d’Youville Secondary School in Brampton.

“As we look at all the changing demographics and the different population of students that come into our schools, we want to be able to be effective in how we educate,” said Les Storey, the board’s principal of equity, diversity and inclusive education.

“We need to be aware of all the changing differences that are happening, not just in our schools but in our communities in general.”

The conference brought together teachers, administrators and support staff. Each participated in two of eight workshops offered this year.

“Every year is different,” said Bruce Campbell, general manager of communications and community relations at the Dufferin-Peel board. “The conference and the workshops are designed to meet current needs and meet topical issues of the day.”

Workshops covered various topics, including mental health, aboriginal education and “Respecting Difference” — the anti-bullying document issued by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association earlier this year that has drawn flak from gay activists and Ontario’s education ministry.

The 12-page Respecting Difference document is a resource intended to aid staff members in effective recognition and resolution of bullying while remaining faithful to the Catholic Church’s teaching regarding sexuality, hot topics across the province since Bill 13 — with its heavy emphasis on anti-gay bullying — was introduced.   

Assisted by Shelagh Peterson, co-ordinator of religious education and faith formation, Storey facilitated the Open Arms... Respecting Difference workshop which consisted of a 45-minute lecture and powerpoint presentation highlighting components of the Respecting Difference document. Followed by a Q-and-A session, the workshop aimed to establish consistency in understanding the guidelines, expectations and responsibilities for staff members regarding student groups.

“Basically it’s to give our staff an insight into what the purpose, expectations and guidelines are for an Open Arms... Respecting Difference group within our school communities if so requested by our student population,” said Storey, who’s been with the board for three years.

“It looks at how we can maintain a Catholic perspective and at the same time meet the needs of our students.”

Being one of the province’s most populated boards, with about 86,000 students and more than 10,000 employees spread across 146 schools in four different suburban municipalities west of Toronto, meeting these needs is not always easy.

“It takes time,” said Campbell, now in his 16th year with the board. “We’ve been doing this for many years. Are we where we want to be? No, not yet, but we are certainly on our way.”

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