Six Yukon schools will be getting new school councils today.
School council elections are happening across the territory this afternoon, from 3 to 8 p.m. at schools in Faro, Carmacks, Pelly Crossing and Haines Junction, as well as Whitehorse’s Porter Creek Secondary and Vanier Catholic Secondary.
The Vanier election drew the most attention from candidates, with 13 people running to fill five positions. The Catholic Education Association of Yukon has posted candidate profiles on its website, at www.ceay.ca.
The episcopal corporation is also urging parents to get out and vote for the Vanier council. The church sent a letter to parishioners urging them, in bold print, to “discern carefully those candidates who are in full agreement” with the church’s mission statement and values.
That doesn’t sit well with some Vanier parents.
Tjitske van der Eide is one of a number of parents who first raised concerns in late 2012 about a same-sex attraction policy that the bishop penned and implemented unilaterally.
She has been an outspoken critic of the bishop’s, arguing for a restriction of his powers when it comes to public school policy.
She said this latest letter from the church is a veiled attempt to influence who the parishioners vote for.
“We believe that it’s not meant to sway people one way or the other? I would not believe that,” she said.
Prior to the last Vanier school council election, the bishop named certain candidates in the church newsletter, highlighting their status as parishioners and suggesting they would appreciate the votes of their fellows.
Four of the five candidates the bishop named won their seats, but many called the apparent endorsement problematic.
This time around, van der Eide said the church has been more careful, but the intention remains the same.
“It all looks very politically correct, but I think if you read between the lines it’s all there,” she said.
Last year saw some deep divisions among the councillors at Vanier Catholic Secondary in the wake of a controversy over the school’s sexual orientation policy.
In their biographies and platform outlines on the CEAY website, some candidates in today’s election chose to address the issue head on, while others made no mention of it.
Van der Eide’s partner, John Berg, is a current member of the school council whose stance on the sexual orientation policy ran counter to that of the church.
In his bio, Berg says if elected he would encourage the Department of Education to conclude its promised negotiations with Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon and further outline the responsibilities of the bishop, the school councils and the department when it comes to setting school policy.
The department made that promise last year after the eruption of the sexual identity controversy. Deputy minister Valerie Royle promised the role of the bishop in setting policy would be defined by the start of the 2014/15 school year. That hasn’t happened, the department says, because of delays on the bishop’s part.
“Roles and responsibilities need to be better defined and brought into the light of 2014,” Berg wrote.
John Robbins, a volunteer with the church, said the letter was not meant to influence anyone’s voting, only to get as many people to the ballot box as possible.
“What we’re trying to encourage is that … parishioners make up their own minds. We want them to participate in the election,” Robbins said.
Under the Yukon’s Education Act, parishioners at Whitehorse’s Catholic churches are eligible to vote in Catholic school elections even if they don’t have children at the school or live in the school catchment area.
Contact Jesse Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org