School board’s equity policy up for debate

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  • March 16, 2011
Toronto Catholic District School BoardTORONTO - As the Toronto Catholic District School Board hammers out its equity policy over the next several weeks, with public consultations scheduled for the end of March, some parents and trustees say “stronger language” is needed to ensure that the province’s policy to promote diversity in “gender identity” doesn’t bypass Catholic school’s denominational rights.

But others fear stronger language could have adverse consequences if Catholic school board’s denominational rights are ever the focus of a court challenge.

Last year, school boards began implementing equity and inclusive education policies, with guidelines from the education ministry.

The province introduced its equity and education strategy in 2008 to prohibit discrimination based upon race, religion and sexual orientation. It became law in 2009.

The Toronto Catholic board’s draft policy prohibits social and cultural discrimination and refers to human rights legislation’s definition of discrimination, while also recognizing “that the school system gives pre-eminence to the tenets of the Catholic faith.”

Teresa Pierre, a mother of four children attending TCDSB schools from junior kindergarten to Grade 8, said the right of Catholic schools to teach students about the Catholic perspective on issues like homosexuality “needs to be explicitly protected.” This would “prevent texts or speakers (from being) able to promote homosexuality in the classroom,” she said.

Pierre added that she was not in favour of any child being bullied because of their same-sex attraction. But it’s “not appropriate” for Catholic schools, which are an extension of the teaching office of the Catholic Church, “to be confusing children about what the Catholic teaching is on those matters,” she said.

In response to the concerns expressed by some parents, trustee John Del Grande proposed five amendments to the draft policy at its February board meeting. These included adding the words “in a manner consistent with the Catholic faith and Catholic moral teaching” and “unjust” before the word “discrimination” throughout the document. All of the amendments were defeated.

The trustees who opposed Del Grande’s amendments argue the draft policy already safeguards these rights. Board chair Ann Andrachuk said they were “not necessary.”

“The policy statement clearly defines Catholicity for the policy we have to bring forward,” she said.

For trustee Sal Piccininni, stricter language could open the doors to a legal challenge that could lead to a loss of denominational rights.

“If (you) tighten up the policy so much and somebody tries to take us to court over it, we could lose our denominational rights,” he said.

“Our lawyers told us when the time comes to defend our policy in court, they could deem our policy to be discriminatory.”

The TCDSB will hold public consultations on March 26 from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic High School and March 30 at 7 p.m. at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School. Students are invited to a special consultation session on March 29 at 3:30 p.m. at the Catholic Education Centre.

The board will vote on the policy later this spring.

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