Vanier Catholic High School is a fractured place, with high feelings of anxiety, isolation, betrayal, intolerance and resentment, according to a report by Lyn Hartley.
Hartley is the facilitator hired by the Department of Education in the wake of the Vanier same-sex policy controversy to talk with staff and try to gain an understanding of what they feel is happening at Whitehorse’s only Catholic high school.
The 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.
The ensuing public debate also raised concerns about a larger breakdown of community and vision at Vanier. In March, the department committed to hiring a facilitator to look into those issues as well.
The News obtained a copy of Hartley’s report, dated May 27, 2013. The department confirmed it is the most up-to-date version.
She spoke with 38 members of the school community, who said they feel there is little unity within the teaching community.
“There is an ‘us vs. them’ mentality between different views with patterns of blame and victimization,” the report reads.
The biggest area of concern is around what it means to be a Catholic school, the report says.
“There is a range of Catholic beliefs and practices, from traditional to progressive. There are also non-Catholic teachers. Staff is divided, as there are major differences between ideologies,” the report reads.
The original vision for the school has shifted without consultation from teachers or direction from the Catholic community. There is a perception that Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon is directing the administration and school council to strengthen the Catholic approach to education, the report says.
Other areas of concern include a perceived shift in focus away from students and academics, that the school has become less tolerant, and that non-Catholic teachers feel judged and set up to fail.
Staff said they worry about the hiring practices and that the bishop actively recruits and selects teachers that are aligned with his ideology.
There are concerns about the role and influence of the bishop with the principal and the vice-principal.
Vanier’s former principal Ed Frison was reassigned within the Department of Education earlier this spring. There has been no word on who will replace him.
The department had said that vice-principal Kyle Janzen’s position would also be open, but now says he will be kept on for one year to help ensure continuity at the administration level.
The report lauds Janzen as the workhorse of the school’s staff team, painting a picture of him picking up the slack for an absentee Frison who works better behind the scenes and one-on-one than he did as the face of the school’s administration.
Staff said they feel there has been a willful dismantling of the school’s former vision. They feel marginalized and disenfranchised, with a high level of animosity, angst and stress. They are burnt out and disconnected, the report says.
In mid-June, Vanier parents complained that they hadn’t been told anything about what was happening at the school, or that the principal had been replaced. A group of parents threatened to push for a referendum to end public funding of Catholic schools in the Yukon if the department didn’t do a better job of communicating with them.
On June 28, the department sent a letter home to Vanier parents outlining the latest of its efforts to correct the problems at the school. Department spokesman Chris Madden said the June 28 letter contains the most up-to-date information on the department’s work thus far.
According to the letter, work on a new sexual orientation policy is still ongoing.
“We are now down to the final few issues for resolution, and will provide follow-up communication regarding next steps in the new school year,” the letter reads.
The department is still working on developing a memorandum of understanding to clarify the roles of the bishop within the school. That process is taking longer than expected because of legal wrangling between the department and the bishop.
The department’s letter also said it made changes to the hiring protocol used to hire Vanier staff for the 2013/14 school year, and that a more thorough review is being conducted over the coming months and should be in place for the 2014/15 school year.
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