Halton Catholic school board caves on equity policy

On Jan. 18, the Halton Catholic District School Board caved to pressure from gay activists and rescinded its Equity and Inclusive Education Policy II-45, following a media storm over the board’s policy banning gay-straight alliances.

Over the past year, public and separate school boards in Ontario have been required to implement policies in line with the province’s Ministry of Education equity and inclusive education (EIE) initiative that includes strategies to make all students welcome in schools and to combat bullying. But pro-family critics of the province’s EIE policy say that as laudable as combating racism, sexism and classism in schools may be, efforts to fight anti-homosexual sentiments may end up normalizing and affirming the homosexual lifestyle. At worst, these critics say the policy is a Trojan horse designed to advance the gay agenda because the ministry recommends schools celebrate Gay Pride events, use texts by homosexual authors and promote gay-straight alliance student clubs.

In November, the Halton board, which serves the communities of Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville southwest of Toronto, passed a policy that banned any gay student groups and required that teachers consult the Catechism of the Catholic Church on issues of sexual morality before instructing or advising students on such matters. Notably, the Halton policy makes no mention of “sexual orientation” and used the term “unjust discrimination,” whereas the template policy recommended by  Ontario Education Services Corporation condemns merely “discrimination.” It required that equity and inclusion be interpreted in ways compatible with Catholic teaching. The policy stated: “Both in its content and methodology, inclusive curriculum must reflect Catholic teaching,” adding: “While all students should be able to see themselves reflected in the curriculum this goal does not extend to recognition of personal conduct that is not consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

However, in December, a new board elected in October was installed, including Paul Marai. Elected to represent Catholic ratepayers and parents in Oakville, Marai is an open homosexual and co-chair of Out on Bay Street, a group of homosexual activists businesspeople in Toronto. Initially, he showed little interest in re-opening the issue, telling the local paper, the Oakville Beaver in Decmeber, that he would back the policy. However, he is quoted in the Jan. 6, Xtra!, a homosexualist newspaper, expressing reservations about the policy: “ I was elected trustee after this policy was put in place … Quite frankly, the policy must meet certain expectations.” He said that “banning things and trying to divide the community” was a waste of the board’s time. Days later, he was telling the Toronto Star, he wanted the policy rescinded.

On Jan. 11, the board’s policy committee, comprised of all board members, voted 6-2 to advise the full board to rescind the existing policy. One week later, the board voted 6-2 to scrap their equity policy and to use the “Equity and Inclusive Education for Catholic Boards” template provided by ministry’s Ontario Education Services Corporation. In a press release, the board stated: “The Trustees of our Board have decided to adopt the OESC’s Catholic template policy as an interim measure, because it better reflects the intent and objectives of the newly elected Board. The Equity and Inclusive Education Policy, as written and approved in November, 2010, was too restrictive and narrow in focus, and the Board’s decision to rescind the policy, which included a ban on Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs), is based on this acknowledgement.”

The release quotes Michael Pautler, the Halton director of education: “The most compelling voices on this issue have come from some of the students in our care, who have expressed to us that they don’t always feel included and they have not always felt safe, and we need to listen to the voices of our students.” Numerous students made presentations urging the trustees permit gay-straight alliances so that they or their fellow students would feel safe and validated at school.

Before the vote, the Toronto Star quoted Helen Kennedy, executive director of the gay activist group EGALE, who said that Catholic boards should not be allowed to have a different standard than the government was requiring for public boards, saying that it is akin to having “drunk-driving laws (not) apply(ing) to everyone.”

LifeSiteNews.com reported, “Dozens of homosexual activists flooded the Halton Catholic District School Board offices … as trustees voted 6-2 under heavy pressure and intimidation to scrap a pro-family equity policy.” Some gay activists noted on the Twitter social media website that there were 75 or more homosexual supporters and one noted that there were only seven pro-family policy supporters and that they were “cowering near the door.”

Activists from Queer Ontario, Heterosexuals for Same-Sex Equality, and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) were in attendance. Noa Mendelsohn Aviv was quoted in Xtra! that the CCLA would act if any high school attempts to block a student from starting a gay-straight alliance. Furthermore, former Halton student James Hopkins, 19, who shared with the board what he described as his negative experiences in the schools as a homosexual, said that while this battle was won, “the fight is far from over.” The next fight was at the provincial level where Hopkins said he plans to pressure the Ministry of Education to require a uniform policy across the province for both public and separate schools.

While the trustees who voted to rescind the pro-family policy noted they received correspondence from across the country, Jane Michael, a supporter of the original policy, said she received more than 200 calls and emails from her constituents urging her to maintain the policy. “If we abandon our Catholic principles, we will have abandoned our partnership with home and church and ultimately what makes us unique and different from the public board,” she said. Michael and Anthony Danko were the only trustees to support the pro-family policy. Voting to rescind the policy, were Paul Marai, Arlene Iantomasi, Ed Viana, John Morrison, Diane Rabenda, and John Mark Rowe; board chair Alice Anne LeMay abstained as she does in all votes that do not require a tie-breaker.

Monsignor Vincent Kerr, secretary to Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby, told the Burlington Post that the board and not the bishop should be making policy for Catholic schools. “It’s not a question of the bishop making a decision for a publicly funded board,” Monsignor Kerr said. “They should be making the decision themselves and standing by it.” He added that having one policy and changing it added “confusion” to the discussion.

Campaign Life Catholics worked with trustees in boards across the province to implement pro-family policies and endeavoured to keep parents and pastors alerted to what was happening under the guise of inclusivity and equity. Campaign Life Catholic’s Suresh Dominic vowed to continue fighting in Halton and elsewhere for the creation of EIE policies that do not promote the homosexual lifestyle, uphold Catholic moral teaching and respect the rights of parents as primary educators. He noted that the Halton policy goes back to the drawing board and he urges area parents and ratepayers to contact their trustees to support a policy compatible with Catholic teaching.

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