Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky

Province will respect Catholic rights: Dombrowsky

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  • July 27, 2011

TORONTO - The right of Catholic schools to remain faithful to Catholic teaching on matters of marriage and sexuality will be respected under Ontario’s new equity and inclusive education policy, says Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky.

“There’s no question that in Catholic schools, they have the constitutional right to teach their faith in their schools and that has not changed,” Dombrowsky told The Catholic Register.

But Dombrowsky also said all school boards will be required to provide support groups for gay students. “We’ve made that very clear as a government,” she said. “It’s not an option for school boards on whether or not they will have a group to support students dealing with issues around sexual orientation.”

Although such support groups are often called gay-straight alliances, Dombrowsky said Catholic schools are not required to use that name. There has been considerable objection to importing the gay-straight alliance terminology because of concerns that the name implies acceptance of the gay lifestyle.

But Prof. Bob Dixon, a Catholic education expert, is not convinced that Catholic education rights in Ontario will be protected under the equity policy. He says the policy being developed by the Toronto Catholic District School Board could “open the door” to curriculum that does not reflect Catholic teaching.

“If you read the policy, it could be interpreted that we would be teaching that the practice of homosexuality is acceptable,” said Dixon, an adjunct professor at St. Augustine’s Seminary.

He said articles 7, 8 and 9 of the TCDSB’s equity policy “leave the door open to the board having to present a curriculum that isn’t a Catholic curriculum. That’s the bottom line,” he said.

Dombrowsky said these groups are “not about counselling. This is about student support and I want to be very clear.” The minister said teachers would likely supervise these groups similar to a camera club or yearbook club, but they would be student clubs.

Although a number of Catholic parents have expressed concerns that the equity and inclusive education policy could be used to force schools to offer teachings that trespass on Catholic constitutional rights, Dombrowksy, a former Catholic school trustee, said parents shouldn’t be alarmed.  

“As a Catholic parent, I can say that I am very happy to know that in the province of Ontario, there is very clearly an expectation that every student in our school is respected and has the right to feel safe and supported, and I think that’s absolutely consistent with my Catholic values, the values I was taught when I went to Catholic school,” she said.  

“The equity and inclusiveness policy is making sure that every child in every school in Ontario is being supported and welcomed. And we know that when students have that sense of security and self worth, they are more likely to be successful in school.”

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