Ann Andrachuk, chair of Toronto Catholic District School Board

Andrachuk says schools will uphold Catholic values

By 
  • October 30, 2012

The chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board has issued an open letter to parents and media that is a frank rebuke to Ontario's education minister.

In her letter dated Oct. 30, board chair Ann Andrachuk declared that Toronto schools will remain committed to a curriculum "that affirms the value of all human life and forms the foundation of our Catholic education system."

Andrachuk's letter came three weeks after Eduction Minister Laurel Broten sparked outrage by comments that equated pro-life teaching with misogyny and suggested that pro-life activities were in contravention of Bill-13, the government's anti-bullying legislation.

"Taking away a woman's right to choose could arguably be one of the most misogynistic actions," Broten told reporters on Oct. 10.

Andrachuk did not name Broten in her letter. But it is clear her comments were directed at the education minister. Andrachuk mentions how events of recent weeks have sparked a debate about the place of Catholic values in a publicly funded school system.

"By remaining faithful to Catholic Christian principles, we not only meet, but far exceed the expectations of the policies of the Ministry of Education," Andrachuk wrote. "Indeed, the focus on these values allows us to go beyond government legislated mandates."

Andrachuk pointed out that respecting the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death is a fundamental Catholic tenet and forms a key component of a curriculum that teaches "the values of peace, justice and respect for the sacredness of human life."

"This Christian anthropology or world view embraces and cherishes the dignity and worth of each and every person," she wrote. "Are these not universal human values that should be shared and cherished by everyone on this precious planet?

"Ours is an inclusive learning community rooted in the love of Christ. We educate students to grow in grace and knowledge, and to lead lives of faith, hope and charity."

Andrachuk also pointed out that Catholics are not alone in respecting all human life.

"Acknowledging that human life begins at conception is a deeply held tenet of many world-wide religions including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism," she wrote.

Andrachuk also highlighted programs operated in Catholic schools that provide extensive social, academic and spiritual supports for pregnant teens. That support includes ensuring maternity uniforms "to reinforce the message of inclusivity."

Additionally, said Andrachuk, schools "do not abandon teens who make other choices," but instead offer counseling and "unconditional love and support."

"The measure of any civilized society is the way it deals with its most vulnerable and those in need, especially in times of crisis," she wrote.

Andrachuk said that Catholic schools will continue to reinforce the belief that "we are our brother’s keeper based on the universal values of peace, hope, love, respect and social justice."

"If the educational environment of a school is not the appropriate place for the teaching of these intrinsic human values – then where?"

 

Below is the complete text of the open letter from Ann Andrachuk, Chair of the Board of Trustees, Toronto Catholic District School Board

Oct. 30, 2012

Catholic Values are Human Values

The events of recent weeks have renewed the debate on whether religious, and in particular Catholic values, have any place in a publicly-funded school system.

But, whose values are these really?

At the Toronto Catholic District School Board we inspire excellence by educating the hands, hearts and minds of students to create responsible citizens who give witness to Catholic social teachings through the values of peace, justice and respect for the sacredness of human life. This Christian anthropology or world view embraces and cherishes the dignity and worth of each and every person.

Are these not universal human values that should be shared and cherished by everyone on this precious planet?

Ours is an inclusive learning community rooted in the love of Christ. We educate students to grow in grace and knowledge, and to lead lives of faith, hope and charity. As members of one of Canada’s largest school boards, our staff and students are challenged to transform the world through faith, innovation and action. This is consistent with the distinctive expectations of all Ontario Catholic Schools. These expectations are determined and shaped by the vision and destiny of the human person emerging from our faith tradition.

TCDSB schools deliver a curriculum that affirms the value of all human life and forms the foundation of our Catholic education system. The sanctity and respect for human life from conception onwards to every stage of life is a fundamental teaching for both men and women. We are not alone in this belief. Acknowledging that human life begins at conception is a deeply-held tenet of many world-wide religions including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.

By remaining faithful to Catholic Christian principles, we not only meet, but far exceed the expectations of the policies of the Ministry of Education. Indeed, the focus on these values allows us to go beyond government legislated mandates. Real world examples of these include: our integrated approach to equity and inclusivity and the TCDSB’s three-decade long integrated and holistic respecting differences approach to deal with bullying.

The personalized and unconditional support given to every student who is faced with an unplanned pregnancy is typical of this Catholic values-based tradition. We place their physical and emotional health at the very center of our care. Chaplaincy team leaders, guidance counselors, principals and classroom teachers collectively play a crucial, non-judgmental role to help the individual student feel supported, cared for and loved in a situation that is often emotionally and physically challenging.

Students dealing with this personal crisis naturally feel scared and isolated. We work to bridge this gap by helping join the student and parents together to discuss next steps. In many cases this involves a staff member accompanying the student home to help break the news. For our students over 18, we advise them of their rights to privacy and share information about confidential resources like Birthright.

We also ensure they are aware of the special services offered by Rosalie Hall and the Massey Centre.

Our message is that they do not need to travel this journey alone and that an entire caring community is here to help both academically and spiritually. From social workers and pastors to specially trained counselors and educators, we reassure the student that she is welcome to stay in the school as long as her health allows. Accommodations are offered to her schedule, including home instruction or other ways to continue her studies. The Board has asked school uniform suppliers to provide maternity-sized apparel to reinforce the message of inclusivity.

Also true to our Catholic values, we do not abandon those who make other choices. Students in this circumstance generally return to school traumatized, with solitary feelings of guilt and despondency. One-to-one support is of even greater importance to these students and their future success. Similarly, we extend our arms out to serve as a security blanket of unconditional love and respect. We work hard to ensure they are not stigmatized in the eyes of their peers or the school community and that they have the same access to social support networks.

Some critics will delight in pointing out the apparent contradiction that we treat those who make other choices in the same open and generous manner.

We see no such contradiction. The measure of any civilized society is the way it deals with its most vulnerable and those in need, especially in times of crisis.

For our part, Catholic values guide the TCDSB’s profound reverence for each individual, and a commitment to live the message of love in the Gospel. This is our obligation to all those entrusted to our care in Catholic education. Whether they are students or educators, we strive to offer our school community an authentic pathway of faith, hope, love and charity, reinforced with the virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.

We live in a cynical, modern, secular and often cruel world dominated by a narcissistic “me first” value system. At this critical tipping point in the life of our planet, is this not the right time to reinforce the belief that we are our brother’s keeper based on the universal values of peace, hope, love, respect and social justice for all?

If the educational environment of a school is not the appropriate place for the teaching of these intrinsic human values – then where?

And if not now – when?

For us at the TCDSB the answers are self-evident. As the world’s largest Catholic school board we do not take this leadership role lightly. Supported by a new multi-year strategic plan, the TCDSB will proudly forge ahead with our global vision to transform the world through witness, faith, innovation and action.

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