Vanier Catholic Secondary School is looking for a new principal.
Ed Frison, who weathered this year’s controversy over the school’s same-sex policy, has been quietly reassigned within the Department of Education, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The department did not return a request for comment by press time, and repeatedly refused to answer other questions about the school earlier this week.
Controversy erupted in February after parents and students complained about the school’s new sexual orientation policy. Introduced by Whitehorse’s Bishop Gary Gordon, the guidelines leaned heavily on Catholic religious teachings on homosexuality, calling homosexual urges a “disorder” and homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.”
The policy also forbade students from forming a Gay-Straight Alliance club, and even discouraged teachers from using the word “gay.” All this contradicted a policy that the department had spent two years crafting, and Gordon’s guidelines were eventually pulled from the Catholic schools’ websites.
During a public meeting in April, deputy minister Valerie Royle promised that the department would have a new policy in place by the end of May, after consulting with parents and the school community.
It’s now been over a month since that deadline expired, but Vanier parents say they have heard nothing about what’s going on, and have not been consulted about any new policy.
“My big question for that is why,” said Brian Blindheim, a parent whose son started at Vanier in September.
“That is something that you would see in the Dark Ages. Why have there never been any repercussions after the fact? That is everybody’s question. It sounds to me like the department thinks it’s one of those deals where if we don’t talk, it will go away,” he said.
In a newsletter sent home to parents last month, Frison minimized his role in the controversy and blamed it on “misrepresentation in the media” and “a few detractors of our school.”
Frison has declined numerous interview requests since the scandal broke. A department spokesperson has maintained that it’s up to Frison whether he speaks. But emails obtained by the News through an access-to-information request show that superintendent Mike Woods recommended that the principal not speak with reporters.
The emails also show that the Department of Education knew about the bishop’s document over a year ago, and was aware that there were problems with it months before the issue became public. That contradicts the department’s claims that Frison posted the document without the department’s knowledge or authority.
Instead, the department first learned that the Catholic administration was working on a Catholic same-sex policy in May 2012, while education officials were finishing work on the department’s own sexual orientation policy, according to emails.
On Sept. 27, 2012, Gordon emailed Frison, asking him to forward the document to the department and to post it publicly on Vanier’s website. The following day, Frison forwarded that email and the document to members of the department, including Education Minister Scott Kent and superintendent Mike Woods.
In November, parents at the school began to complain to the department about the document.
There is no record of any department official asking either Gordon or Frison to take the document down until Feb. 20, when Woods – on behalf of the minister – suggested Gordon remove the document.
The bishop refused, saying that “it was thoroughly vetted in draft stage by the Catholic administrators and yourself.” He also refused to post the Education Department’s own policy.
In a February 21 email to Woods, Royle wrote, “Thanks Mike. The minister was looking for a quick win with those parents and removing the policy would have been a solid step; however, given the bishop’s response, I’m sure it will be on the agenda for the minister’s meeting with him in March.”
While Gordon’s document remained online, the department requested a number of edits to it between September and December 2012, but those changes were not made and the document remained in place.
An annotated version of the bishop’s document outlining the requested changes, also obtained through access-to-information, shows that the changes were related to how the school would implement the policy and made no comment on the religious content included or the church’s teachings on homosexuality.
In February, Vanier student Shara Layne came forward after her locker was vandalized with the word “faggot” and said that principal Frison had ignored her complaints. She said he laughed at her and refused to have the locker painted for weeks. She later left the school, saying she had been traumatized by the experience.
At the public meeting in April, Royle said the vandalism was reported but repairs were delayed by the government’s property management agency, which decided that because it would require painting, it would wait until they could paint over other lockers as well.
Royle also promised that there would be mediation for Layne. This week Layne’s mother, Leah White, said that has not happened and her family has still not received an apology from Frison.
“I needed Shara to have closure and to understand what happened, why nothing was followed through with. I was guaranteed by the principal there would be some kind of closure for her,” White said.
She emailed and called repeatedly, trying to arrange a time to meet with Frison, but after her last attempt she said she received “disrespectful” emails from both men accusing her of lying at the April meeting.
White said that Royle and Porter Creek Secondary vice-principal Trevor Ratcliff have given her daughter incredible help transitioning to her new school.
“They have been phenomenal. I can’t say enough about Porter Creek and him or Val. Amazing, very supportive, very welcoming,” White said.
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