Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Who runs our schools?

The piece below was largely written in December, 2010. It was sent to various media but rejected because the issue wasn't news enough for publication. When the topic became a hot-button issue after an Ontario Catholic school banned the rainbow during an anti-homophobia event (truth is stranger than fiction at times), most papers ran their own editorials on the subject and so don't need external contributions.

The essay could be updated on at least a monthly basis with new offenses to basic human decency and morality. I have included one from just a few weeks ago.


Who runs our schools?

Determining who sets the rules governing the publicly funded school systems in Ontario ought to be a relatively straightforward endeavour. But it turns out that who sets the rules, and who is obliged to follow them, depends not so much on who you believe, but instead on what you believe.

In theory, responsibility for setting the curriculum lies with the Ontario Ministry of Education, which also sets standards for acceptable conduct that is consistent with (among other statutes) provincial law and the principles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In practice, however, there seems to be one set of rules for the public school system, and another for the separate (Catholic) boards. This has led to province-wide threats that Catholic schools will disregard educational standards, curriculum content, provincial mandates, and even the Canadian Constitution.

When religious dogma is deemed more important than equitable treatment for all, injustice is inevitable. Individual students in the Catholic school system all too frequently must endure significant encroachments on their rights to freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.

In January 2010, changes to the sex education curriculum were posted to the Ontario Ministry of Education's website. These went largely unnoticed until April, when protests about the changes hit a fever pitch. During the brief period when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty defended the new subject matter, the reaction from Catholic schools was mutinous.

Defending the claims from several Catholic school boards that they would refuse to teach the revamped curriculum, Lou Piovesan, general secretary of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, claimed "Catholic schools do have denominational rights." His position was that these rights allow the separate school board to teach what they choose to their students, regardless of the official curriculum. The public has a constitutional obligation to fund Catholic schools, citizens are told, but "denominational rights" imply that Catholic schools can ignore whatever aspects of mandated provincial standards they disapprove of.

In other words: Material taught within the classroom is subject to a veto from religious authorities.

Why do Ontarians continue to accept this indecent double standard?

Ontario has passed legislation stating that all school boards must create inclusive policies to promote a safe environment for children of all creeds, religions, and sexual orientations. These anti-discriminatory policies are being covertly sidelined at the board level - Halton Catholic District's policies omit any mention of gender or sexual orientation equality. The chairwoman of the board justifies this because "we will not do anything against magisterial of the Catholic Church."

In other words: The Pope trumps the law.

How is this position in any way justifiable or permissible?

A student at Bishop Reding Catholic Secondary School in Milton has been trying to establish a gay-straight alliance since September 2010. In response, the Halton Catholic District School Board banned such groups from their schools earlier this year. Again, the chairwoman claimed that such a ban was justified "because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church." (The official ban was soon overturned after immense public outcry, but there are still no gay-straight alliances or similar support groups at any Halton Catholic school.) At a meeting on August 31, 2011, the Toronto Catholic District School board made this explicit: they passed a resolution that affirms denominational rights will take precedence when there is a conflict with government policy.

In other words: Catholic doctrine is more important than human rights.

Why do Ontario tax dollars continue to fund blatant discrimination?

The symbol of the rainbow was banned at a Mississauga Catholic school, ironically enough, during an anti-homophobia event on June 3, 2011. In March, at least seven students were suspended or sent home for wearing a green piece of tape with the word "choice" written on it - on a day when a school-sponsored event encouraged students to wear red tape emblazoned with "life". John de Faveri, Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board director, defended the action, stating,  "Pro-life is part of the Catholic stand. The pro-choice students were not appropriate in the context of a Catholic school."

In other words: In a Catholic school, censorship is an entirely appropriate means of stifling the voices of those who disagree.

How long will Ontario taxpayers continue to fund a school system that denies its students their right to freedom of expression in a peaceful and respectful manner?

If Catholics want to have denominational schools, they should pay for them privately - just as Jews, Baptists, Muslims, and Hindus must do today. The current state of affairs is intolerable morally, legally (the UN Human Rights Committee found Ontario guilty of religious discrimination in 1999 and 2005), and financially (at minimum, the separate school system costs Ontario hundreds of millions of dollars in additional, unnecessary expenditure every year).

Quebec moved to a single public school system by a simple bilateral constitutional amendment consisting of a mere twelve words. A recent Canadian Press-Harris Decima poll indicates a majority of Canadians are comfortable with modifying the Constitution to achieve worthy goals.

Ontario should cease funding a system that is discriminatory, censorious, and contemptuous of both the rights of its students and the laws of the land. Ontario should do the right thing. Ontario should move to a single secular public school system.

1 comment:

  1. Leslie

    You are so correct "most papers ran their own editorials on the subject and so don't need external contributions."

    The local newspaper Peterborough This Week published an editorial, on October 26, 2011, against the separate school system for a reason specific to Peterborough:

    "the Catholic school board just added 12 classrooms and various facilities to Holy Cross Secondary School at the same time as the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board faces flak over its decision to close one of four city high schools."

    See my post at

    Peterborough This Week is serious when it says, "We Love Letters!" Mike Lacey has been very cooperative about publishing my letters. You can reach him at

    You may contact me through the email I used to sign on to your blog.