School chairs question need for Catholic same sex policy

The territory's Catholic school councils don't want a specific policy related to gay and lesbian students.

The territory’s Catholic school councils don’t want a specific policy related to gay and lesbian students.

In a letter sent to the Department of Education last week, chairs from the councils at Vanier Catholic High School, Holy Family Elementary School and Christ the King Elementary School asked the government to explain why students aren’t sufficiently protected under other department policies.

It’s the latest in a long running back-and-forth over a policy on homosexuality for Catholic schools.

The Department of Education signed off on the last draft of the territory’s Catholic Schools One Heart policy on homosexuality earlier this year.

Education officials said it’s up to Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon whether to implement the policy or not.

If the schools do not implement their own document, the department’s sexual orientation and gender identity policy stands, deputy minister Val Royle has said.

Cam Kos, chair at Holy Family Elementary School, says this policy is redundant because an earlier, more general policy, called Safe and Caring Schools, also exists.

The letter, signed by Kos, Vanier’s chair Paul Flaherty, and Christ the King co-chairs Monica Lauer and Paula Stoker, asks the government to explain why the earlier policy is not enough.

“The school councils maintain that the Safe and Caring Schools Policy (2008) is sufficient to achieve the objectives of the Yukon government and therefore maintain that it be the only policy with ‘One Heart’ as a guiding resource for Catholic schools,” it says.

“Both other policies have the potential to single out a group and we want to have total inclusion for all students,” Kos said.

The department’s Safe and Caring Schools policy, passed in January 2008, calls for “a commitment of the school community to plan, strategize and create a respectful, safe and nurturing educational environment for everyone.

“Incidents of bullying, harassment, discrimination, intimidation or any unwelcome behaviour that degrade a person on the basis of personal characteristics, gender, sexual orientation, race or disability will be addressed in a timely, effective and consistent manner in order to maintain a safe and caring school environment.”

The sexual orientation and gender identity policy, passed in 2012, is more detailed when it comes to the treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered or queer and questioning students.

The policy requires schools to have proactive strategies and support groups like Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. It says schools must identify specific staff as safe contacts for students questioning their sexual identity and provide “supportive, affirming” counselling.

Kos said his council doesn’t want any policy that singles out a particular group of people.

“Speaking as a parent and personally, I think the best thing to do is to go with not singling anyone out and insuring that every child is treated equally,” he said.

Kos says his school is a happy place where all students are treated with love and respect.

The bishop’s original document, titled Living With Hope, Ministering by Love, Teaching in Truth, was removed from Whitehorse Catholic schools last year by the government after parents complained.

Among its teachings, Living With Hope included passages from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, calling homosexual acts a “grave depravity” and homosexual urges an “inherent moral evil.” It also forbade the formation of a gay-straight alliance at the school, in conflict with the Education Department’s own policy.

At a public meeting in the spring, Royle promised that a new policy specific to Catholic schools would be drafted that would meet all Canadian laws.

An early draft was made public in October. It was criticized for simply whitewashing the controversial language of the original.

An updated draft was never made public. The Department of Education said it is the bishop’s document and won’t be available until it is presented to the Catholic school councils, if that ever happens.

Kos said things are now back in the government’s court.

“Its all gone back to the department. It’s hinging on the department and the minister and the deputy minister saying that, yes, Safe and Caring Schools is adequate enough, you don’t need to have (the sexual orientation policy) or a One Heart document,” Kos said.

But that doesn’t mean the bishop’s work is done.

Kos said his council has approached Gordon about writing a “reference document” for Catholic administrators.

“A policy is something that must be followed to the letter of the law. Whereas a reference document, or a guiding document, would be a belief document,” he said.

“It’s not something that’s written as procedures that must be followed, or policy that must be followed.”

Education spokesperson Mark Hill said he wasn’t in a position to answer questions on the matter until the department had a chance to “review and meet and discuss this.”

The school councils have asked the government to respond in 30 days.

– With files from Jesse Winter

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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