Catholic schools’ same sex policy clarified

Whitehorse's Catholic school councils won't be getting a separate policy covering sexual orientation for their schools.

Whitehorse’s Catholic school councils won’t be getting a separate policy covering sexual orientation for their schools.

In February, the school councils asked the Department of Education to set aside its sexual orientation and gender identity policy at Whitehorse Catholic schools and instead let those schools rely solely on an older safe schools policy which doesn’t specifically focus on gay, transgendered or bisexual students.

But that isn’t going to happen. Education Minister Elaine Taylor sent a letter last month to the school councils reiterating that all department-wide policies will continue to apply at Catholic schools, including the sexual orientation and gender identity policy.

The minister refused to provide the News with a copy of the letter, opting instead to describe what she said in it. Past ministers have provided similar letters on this topic.

The older safe and caring schools policy, passed in 2008, will also remain in effect, Taylor said. It forbids bullying and discrimination generally. That should be good enough, the school councils had argued.

“I know there were some questions about the rationale for this policy,” Taylor said. “The rationale, for the department, is that school and community people identified as LGBTQ face a unique set of challenges,” and they need a policy that protects them specifically, she said.

The department’s policies do allow for schools to create their own school-based policies. It was one of those school-specific ones at Vanier Catholic Secondary that touched off a firestorm last year because it included references to church teachings that said being gay was wrong and immoral.

After the department ordered that policy removed from the schools, Catholic school councils drafted a new version, which, after some amendments, was approved by the department earlier this year.

That guiding document, called One Heart, met the legal requirements spelled out in the sexual orientation and gender identify policy, Taylor said.

It will now be up to the school councils to decide whether they should implement it or not. So far, they have not, so the only policy currently in place is department-wide one.

The composition of school councils could be changing very soon. Nominations are currently open for school council elections, which will be held in May this year rather than October as usual.

Vanier is also looking to hire a permanent vice principal and a religious education coordinator. The current VP position, held by Kyle Janzen, is only a temporary one.

The hiring will take place based on the current hiring policy. A year ago the department promised it would come up with a new hiring policy with less of a focus on Catholic qualifications in time for the 2014/15 school year.

That hasn’t happened because, according to Education spokesman Mark Hill, Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon has been a busy man.

“Nothing has been done, and the reason for that is there is no parish priest in Whitehorse. The bishop has been covering that,” Hill said.

“The amount of time that has been available, the focus has been on the One Heart policy. It’s very much on the table for something that is going to be addressed, but it will take more time,” he said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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