DUNDAS, Ontario, March 23, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Trustees of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) are lending their ears to the growing clamor of parents and ratepayers who want to know what happened on November 23rd, 2011 at Parkside High School in Dundas during a school-wide gay-straight alliance (GSA) assembly when a guest speaker reportedly tried to convince the audience that biblical teaching on homosexuality is obsolete, archaic and “wrong.”
The controversy over Parkside’s November GSA assembly has only gained momentum as Premier Dalton McGuinty gears up for a vote on his new anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, which critics say conceals a radical homosexual agenda that would trample on religious freedom and parental rights. A key element of McGuinty’s bill involves forcing all school boards to permit openly homosexual, student-run GSAs.
One ratepayer Derek Kerr told LifeSiteNews (LSN) that he was “shocked and dismayed” by the response he received from Paul Barwinski, Parkside’s principal, when he asked questions about the “gay speaker who had re-interpreted the Bible and Catholicism to push her own social agenda on staff and students.”
“Mr. Barwinski began by asking me if I had any children who attended Parkside High School to which I answered ‘no’, I had not, and that I didn’t feel that it was relevant [since] my property taxes go the public board and I am a public school elector,” said Kerr. Kerr was not pleased that Barwinski “refused to answer” any of his questions, telling the ratepayer that he would only speak to parents of children who attend the high school.
Kerr told LSN that he was frustrated that “no one is willing to come forward to address my concerns.”
Dundas trustee Jessica Brennan wrote in an email to one concerned parent, the contents of which were leaked to LifeSiteNews, that the GSA assembly was “never intended to harm or disrespect anyone or their religion.”
“At the assembly, three current Parkside students and three former Parkside students spoke about their personal experiences in telling those around them that they were gay. The guest speaker spoke about e [sic] her religion and commented on her personal perspective regarding other faith traditions.”
Jackie Penman, HWDSB’s Corporate Communications Manager confirmed to LSN that the guest speaker was Laura Wolfson, a certified teacher with the Ontario College of Teachers who reportedly identified herself at the GSA assembly as a lesbian and youth worship leader from a synagogue and held herself out to be an authority on Old Testament Scripture.
Sources, who do not wish to be identified for fear of reprisals, told LSN that during the speech Wolfson sought to discredit Catholic beliefs by suggesting that since the eating of fish on Fridays by Catholics is no longer adhered to, neither should its beliefs on homosexuality.
Wolfson would not respond to LSN’s repeated attempts to contact her for comment.
LifeSiteNews requested a copy of Wolfson’s speech from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board so as to examine the accuracy of the source’s information, but HWDSB’s Communications Officer Mark Taylor declined the request for the speech.
LifeSiteNews has since filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain Wolfson’s speech.
Terry McFadden, organizer and co-MC of the Parkside GSA assembly, blogged that Wolfson was invited to the assembly to “address the boundaries some students face when confused about their sexuality, namely their religious beliefs.”
Wolfson reportedly started her treatment of Scripture in her speech by defining the word “abomination,” after which she pointed out that two offenses other than homosexuality that are labeled “abominations” in the Bible are things as common as not keeping the Sabbath holy and getting drunk. Since no one now would consider these two acts “abominations,” then homosexual acts also must not be condemned as wrong, she reportedly argued.
One concerned parent, who also wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, told LSN that they found the incident to be “pure brainwashing.”
“This wasn’t about safety or bullying. This was about discrediting Judeo-Christian beliefs [and] a complete bastardization of Scripture,” the parent said.
East Mountain HWDSB trustee Laura Peddle told LSN that after reviewing the speech, which was circulated to trustees as part of an Issue Note from the board, she could “understand how it would be offensive to traditional beliefs.”
“I can understand why different people with different beliefs would perceive it [the speech] as being more offensive than others would,” she said. Peddle noted that she herself does not hold traditional beliefs.
Peddle mentioned that after the board looked into the matter, they came back with “recommendations to make sure that everybody remembers what they have to do to make sure that the speakers are appropriate for a school setting.”
Chair of the HWDSB Board Tim Simmons told LSN that “whenever we have guest speakers they have to recognize the diverse community, the diverse audience, that they might be speaking to and be respectful around that. Everybody has to do that.”
“My concern is less about what was said because what’s said has been said. [My concern] is about if anything inappropriate was said, that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Central Mountain HWDSB trustee Lillian Orban told LSN that she would consider the reported content of Wolfson’s speech to be a “bullying statement.”
“In my opinion, if I read the policy on bullying, that [Wolfson’s speech] would be deemed to be a bullying statement,” she said.
Orban mentioned that she is a staunch supporter of what she called “religious accommodation” in the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.
Suresh Dominic of Campaign Life Catholics told LSN that he had previously sent a letter to the Minister of Education demanding an official investigation into what he perceived as a “serious violation” of the Education Act.
Ontario’s Education Act states that it is the “duty of a teacher” to “inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality” (264.1 (c)).
When Dominic learned that Parkside’s GSA assembly speaker is a certified teacher, he said that Campaign Life Catholics would file a complaint against Wolfson with the Ontario College of Teachers.
“Teachers in the secular public school board are required by the Education Act to inculcate respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality,” Dominic told LSN.
“They’re also prohibited by the Act from engaging in indoctrinatory religious exercises,” he said, adding that “what Wolfson did was clearly an indoctrinatory religious exercise and showed disrespect for religion and Judeo-Christian morality.”
“Disciplinary action is required. We will file an official complaint with the College of Teachers.”
To respectfully express concerns, contact the following:
1. Education Minister Laurel Broten (Liberal)
Email: [email protected]
Constituency office: 100-701 Evans Ave., Etobicoke, M9C 1A3
2. Education Critic Lisa MacLeod (Progressive Conservative)
Email: [email protected]
Constituency office: 3500 Fallowfield Rd., Unit 10, Nepean ON, K2J 4A7
3. Premier Dalton McGuinty
Constituency office: 1795 Kilborn Ave, Ottawa, K1H 6N1
4. Tim Hudak, Leader of the Opposition
Constituency office: M1-4961 King St E., Bearnsville, L0R 1B0
5. MPP for your riding. Find their contact info here.
6. Catholic Bishops of Ontario contact info can be found here.
7. Trustees page of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board here.