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Parents and teachers crowd Vanier meeting

Former and current teachers at Vanier Catholic Secondary School say the school is going in the wrong direction, and it's driving staff and students away. "Clearly, Vanier is a school in crisis," said Rick Griffiths.

Former and current teachers at Vanier Catholic Secondary School say the school is going in the wrong direction, and it’s driving staff and students away.

“Clearly, Vanier is a school in crisis,” said Rick Griffiths, a former English teacher at the school.

Griffiths said he was speaking on behalf of four former Vanier teachers, including former principal Rosemary Burns. The group is worried that the current administration is going too far in its interpretation of Catholic teachings.

“We empathize with the teaching staff, students, and parents who are caught in a situation not of their making,” he said.

Griffiths was just one of two dozen people who spoke at last Wednesday’s school council meeting, which drew more than 140 people. It was the first public meeting since controversy exploded over Vanier’s same-sex policy a month ago.

The policy described homosexual urges as a “disorder” and labels homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.” Teachers have also been discouraged from using words like “gay” and “lesbian.” Education Minister Scott Kent has since overturned the policy, saying that it runs afoul of his department’s own policies to provide supportive, tolerant environments for gay students.

School council chair Paul Flaherty said that the meeting wasn’t about making decisions, but about listening to the community. The rules for the meeting - laid out by a government-appointed moderator - asked that speakers not mention anyone from the school by name. People were also told not to mention specific incidents, but to only speak in generalities.

That didn’t sit well with Leah White. She’s the mother of former Vanier student Shara Layne, whose locker was vandalized with the word “faggot” last fall. Layne alleges when she complained to principal Ed Frison, he laughed it off. It took the school two weeks to paint over the word.

“We’re talking about damage to a child and damage to this school,” White said, through tears.

“So why did I come if I can’t talk about the issue around Shara Layne, and I will say her name because she is mine. Why did the school council do nothing about this?

“I was told to be silent, but you need to know this ... you can’t silence me. You can’t silence the impact that this hate crime has had on not only her but the kids and, I have to tell you, this community,” she said.

White said she wants to see a restorative justice model put in place at the school to deal with future bullying problems.

But not everyone who spoke at the meeting was supportive of changing Vanier’s policy.

Judy Douglas, who described herself as a concerned citizen with no children at Vanier, said she was appalled at the “gay agenda” being displayed at the meeting.

“There is a spirit of perversion that is troubling our young people. In the end times, He said there is going to be a spirit of perversion that is going to take over the world and it’s here right now. We’re standing in the midst of it. I have to stand up for truth tonight,” Douglas said.

Vanier’s current religious education co-ordinator, Gerald Shepherd, also questioned watering down Catholic teachings at the school.

“Catholic sexual ethics are taboo because they’re tough. But if you got rid of everything that was tough out of Catholicism, it wouldn’t look much like Catholicism, would it?” he asked.

The school will have a new policy on sexual orientation in place by May, and the public will have the chance to help shape it, deputy education minister Valerie Royle told the crowd.

Royle said she met with Education Minister Scott Kent, Bishop Gary Gordon and Vanier school council on March 26 to begin drafting the new policy.

“It includes zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind ... and the clear absence of any language that could potentially negatively impact a student’s self-esteem, self-worth or inherent acceptance as a human person made in the image and likeness of God,” Royle said.

It remains unclear whether this would allow teachers to explain the Roman Catholic Church’s official stance on homosexuality. Also unclear is whether the school will allow the creation of a Gay-Straight Alliance. Some students and parents have requested as much, but the school administration has refused.

Matthew Grant, a spokesman for the cabinet office, said that the policy may allow for one or more LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer) support groups, but no final decision on whether it can include the word “gay” in its title has been made.

The new policy is being reviewed by the department. When the government is done with it, Vanier school council will hold workshops in April to seek input from the school community.

In the meantime, rules against discrimination are already in effect, Royle said.

Royle also spoke about the locker vandalism. She said it had been reported and explained the two-week delay, saying the government’s property management agency decided that because it would require painting, it would wait until they could paint over a number of other lockers as well.

The department has learned an important lesson, and in the future, dealing with that type of vandalism will happen faster instead of relying on property management, Royle said.

The department will also clarify the roles and responsibilities of the bishop, school administration and the minister in directing religious education, and will review the school’s hiring policy, Royle said.

She said the bishop agreed that the hiring policy will be reviewed in the coming months for the next school year, and a more comprehensive review be finished in time for the 2014/15 school year.

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