Vanier parents threaten vote to end Catholic schools’ funding

A group of five concerned Vanier parents say if they don't see more flexibility from the bishop and better communication from the Department of Education, they will push for a plebiscite to end public funding of Catholic schools

A group of five concerned Vanier parents say if they don’t see more flexibility from the bishop and better communication from the Department of Education, they will push for a plebiscite to end public funding of Catholic schools in the territory.

Brian Blindheim, a spokesman for the group, said that the parents are frustrated the department hasn’t told them what is happening with Vanier’s principal or where the department is at in developing promised new policies for the Catholic schools.

“I still have not been officially notified by the department or the school that the principal is leaving. I had to read it in the newspaper,” said one parent. Aside from Blindheim, the group of parents asked to remain anonymous because they are concerned about backlash against their children from the Catholic community.

Blindheim also said parents are extremely frustrated with Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon’s apparent lack of co-operation in negotiating a new sexual orientation policy for the Catholic schools.

“We don’t want to see public funding abused by one man. If you accept public money, you must accept public accountability,” Blindheim said at a meeting with the parents and local reporters last Thursday.

Controversy erupted in February after parents and students complained about Vanier’s new sexual orientation policy. Introduced by 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.

But the parents say their concerns go beyond Gordon’s document. They say they are concerned with an unheeding school council and an increasingly conservative approach to Catholicism at Vanier. They raised those concerns at a department meeting with Education Minister Scott Kent, his deputy Valerie Royle and Superintendent Mike Woods in February before the controversy exploded.

“We brought up all kinds of issues: the role of the bishop, the same-sex guidelines, words said in religious education classes, concerns about the hiring of teachers, enrolment numbers,” said one parent.

The parents, who claim to speak for 15 more who couldn’t make Thursday’s meeting, said they’ve had no communication from the department on any of their issues. Before last week, the only news parents had heard was in an open letter published in newspapers from Paul Flaherty, the chair of Vanier’s school council, in early May. In the letter, he said broadly that work on a new same-sex policy and clarifying the role of the bishop was “ongoing” and “complex.”

“The department isn’t communicating with us as parents. The school council isn’t communicating with us, and neither is the bishop,” said one parent.

Blindheim said that the parents want to see the Department of Education renegotiate the 1962 agreement that grants the Catholic Church public funding for religious schools. The department has said it can’t renegotiate that document without amending parts of the Yukon Act itself, but that it is working towards developing a memorandum of understanding with the church to more clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the bishop.

That process is now bogged down in legal wrangling between lawyers for the department and the bishop, and there is no clear understanding of when it might be finished.

“The bottom line is that Gordon is the problem,” said Blindheim. Gordon wasn’t immediately available for comment.

“If the department won’t open up the 1962 agreement, if the bishop is not going to have deadlines and be held accountable, it’s time to get rid of the Catholic schools,” said one of the parents.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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