Nancy Kirby, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president

Faith-based framework will deal with sexual-orientation bullying

  • April 27, 2011

TORONTO - Ontario’s bishops and school trustees are encouraging Catholic high schools to enhance existing anti-bullying policies by establishing support groups for students being bullied due to sexual orientation.

Under the direction of the bishops and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, a committee will be formed to draft a framework for how such groups would operate within the teachings of the Church. The committee, to  include a bishop, students, parents, trustees, clergy and other educators, will work with the Institute for Catholic Education to have a policy prepared by September.

In a memorandum addressed to Catholic educators, the bishops and trustees acknowledged that recently there has been “much discussion” about this issue. That public discussion, which included news reports about Catholic school boards opposing so-called gay-straight alliance clubs, led to a decision to enhance the broad anti-bullying protocols that have been in place for almost a decade. The expanded framework to deal with bullying due to sexual orientation will be available to any Ontario Catholic board that wishes to implement it.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, emphasized that the proposed groups are not gay-straight alliances (GSA), which are prominent across North America. GSAs deal with lifestyle issues. The enhanced Catholic framework, which builds on existing anti-bullying protocols, will deal exclusively with the issue of bullying and complement the existing teaching that “bullying is wrong under any circumstances, at any age.”

“After speaking to our students, the supports that we do have in place, some students who are of same-sex orientation feel they are not adequate for the support they require,” Kirby said.

“Compassion, care and service to the most vulnerable in our communities are vital and important tenets of our Catholic faith,” said the April 15 memo prepared by the bishops and trustees. “We are not aware of an increase in harassment of this type, but any type of bullying or harassment in Catholic schools will not be tolerated.”

A committee, to be chaired by an Ontario bishop, will convene this month to develop a province-wide policy for Catholic schools. Kirby said topics on dating, marriage and relationships could be discussed in the support groups but “everything would be based on our faith, with that perspective in mind.”

The new framework is “requesting (all) boards to implement this when it comes forward,” Kirby said, but it will not be mandatory for schools.

Although the committee will be convened to examine one specific type of bullying, its work will be based on existing policies that strive to ensure all students are educated in a safe and caring environment that does not tolerate any type of bullying or harassment.  To that end, in addition to addressing bullying due to sexual orientation, the committee will “collect and share the best resources and practices” from across the province to combat all forms of bullying so as to ensure that Catholic schools “are places of welcome according to the Gospel.”

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