TCDSB approves its equity policy

By 
  • May 20, 2011

TORONTO - Despite concerns voiced by several Catholic parents and ratepayers, the Toronto Catholic District School Board passed its equity and inclusive education policy at a May 19 board meeting.

But trustees will vote later on a number of proposed amendments to the policy made by some trustees after these are reviewed by the board's legal counsel.

The vote came after months of debate on how a Catholic school board should deal with the equity policy that the provincial government mandated each board come up with. The aim of the 2008 provincial legislation is to combat discrimination in schools based upon sexual orientation, race and religion. The key issue of concern for many was that Catholic denominational rights should be protected in the policy. Many stakeholders in the Toronto Catholic system fear the policy will be hijacked by groups seeking to override teachings of the Catholic Church.

The new policy, which passed by a 7-4 margin, states that "any form of social or cultural discrimination is incompatible with Catholic moral principles." It goes on to say "The board further recognizes that we must uphold the protections entrenched in the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Constitution Act 1867 and confirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982 — the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

This last line has been a concern for several parents and was echoed by trustee Angela Kennedy, who proposed amendments to the draft policy to delete the reference to the Ontario Human Rights Code. Instead, Kennedy suggested replacing it with wording that ensures that the board's denominational rights "take precedence over human rights protection."

Meanwhile, trustee John Del Grande recommended an amendment reflecting "an expectation that a Catholic teacher will provide classroom instruction that doesn't contradict the teachings of the Catholic Church." This suggestion drew some groans among the audience of about 200 that packed the board room, including one commenter who said, "That's pushing it."

These amendments will be examined by the board's legal team and trustees will meet to review the legal advice over the next few weeks. The amendments will be voted upon at the board's June 16 meeting.

After the meeting, OECTA president James Ryan praised the board's vote.

“We're pleased that the Toronto Catholic District School Board has decided to pass the equity policy,” Ryan told The Register, noting it has the support of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario. “It places it in line with other Catholic boards across Ontario in implementing the equity and inclusive strategy which is meant to protect all of our students in our schools and to ensure that we have an environment for every child that's free of bullying,” he said.

There were spirited and at times tense exchanges between trustees and audience members. Most of these concerned how the policy will deal with homosexuality vs. the teachings of the Catholic Church. The meeting ran late because of impassioned pleas from many opposed to and those in favour of the equity policy.

Trustees were presented with a 2,700-signature petition to "save our Catholic schools" by ratepayer Alan Yoshioka representing the "Reclaim the Rainbow" group of individuals with experience of same-sex attractions who are faithful to the Church's teachings on homosexuality.

Parents like Jacquie Guerron, a mother of six children attending Toronto Catholic schools, say the public was not adequately consulted on such a weighty policy and one which can contradict core Catholic teachings on human sexuality. She fears the policy could open the door to gay-straight alliances, a dialogue group between gay and straight students which is supported by the gay lobby group Egale Canada and is already in place in a number of public schools.

"We know full well that gay-straight alliances are hostile to Catholic teachings on human sexuality," she said. "They push homosexual activity."

But Dave Szolloy of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association spoke on the need to pass the policy in order to protect gay students from bullying.

FOR:

Ann Andrachuk
Sal Picinnini
Maria Rizzo
Jo-Ann Davis
Tobias Enverga
Nancy Crawford
Peter Jakovic
AGAINST:

John Del Grande
Angela Kennedy
Frank D'Amico
Patrizia Bottoni

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