Parents, students give wide-ranging opinion's on TCDSB equity policy

  • April 28, 2011
150 parents, teachers and students met April 27 for the second consultation on the TCDSB's proposed equity policyTORONTO - Opinions varied, mostly along age lines, as the Toronto Catholic District School Board held the second consultation meeting on its proposed equity policy.

About 150 parents, students and teachers gathered April 27 at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary School to discuss the policy. Two distinct sides became clear after 14 small groups broke off to discuss the policy which aims to combat discrimination based upon sexual orientation, race and religion in Toronto's Catholic schools. While parents and teachers were more concerned with ensuring the Catholic identity of schools, students among the group emphasized the need to prevent homophobic bullying by establishing gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

The TCDSB will make a report on the input from the two consultations as well as an online survey, said TCDSB spokesperson Emmy Szekeres-Milne. The report could come as early as May 19, she said.  

During the three-hour meeting, participants broke off into smaller groups to discuss the policy, which the provincial government has mandated be in place by September. After 20 minutes, a representative from each group reported back to the larger group.

During the larger group discussion, the split along age lines became apparent. Several parents voiced concerns about keeping in tune with Catholic teaching while student speakers justified their support for a GSA or a similar group.

Drawing concern was the draft policy's recognition "that the school system gives pre-eminence to the tenets of the Catholic faith, congruent and compatible with the protections entrenched in the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Constitution Act, 1982 and confirmed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.”

Joe Di Fonzo, a 32-year TCDSB teaching veteran, said his group questioned the statement.

“What happens when Catholic tenets do not coincide (with the code)? If we adhere to tenets that do coincide, then how are we any different than public schools?” he asked.

“If there's going to be support for individuals, let it be support for all bases. Bullying can take many forms,” Di Fonzo said.

Another former teacher said she feared that the draft policy was “trying to indoctrinate” students, starting from pre-school, about homosexual relationships.

“Having been an educator, that's not my place to do that,” said the unidentified woman.

On the other hand, Ricky Rodrigues, a TCDSB graduate, stressed the need to tackle bullying.

“We all have different identities. We need to recognize these different identities and show our acceptance to them and leave space for different identities to feel that support,” said the second-year University of Toronto student.

“That is why we need things like GSAs, like anti-homophobia week, awareness days, so we can work that in with other days like Holocaust awareness and tackle all forms of discrimination.”  

Harveer Gill, a Grade 12 St. Patrick's Catholic High School student, said “some people in this table agreed that there are various clubs that represent diversities around the school (like) homosexuality and are proud that it's been accomplished.”

But some parents argued the draft policy is “dangerous” and will “confuse” students. Iola Fortino said her two 14-year-old children are already confused. They are taught to love everyone but are now being taught about homosexuality in a way that opposes Catholic beliefs, she argued.   

“If the Catholic faith and Catholic clubs are not in these schools, these children are going to be so confused,” Fortino said to loud applause.

Instead of GSAs one mother recommended “safe havens” where people struggling with sexuality “can be included in a non-judgmental atmosphere.”

“Jesus was very loving to the woman who was caught in adultery but he also clearly pointed out her sin and said do not sin again,” said the unidentified speaker.

“I'm a parent. I will tell my child this is dangerous. I think this is what Jesus would have done. Otherwise, our Catholic faith means nothing.”

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