HAMILTON, Ontario, February 8, 2013, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Trustees of the Hamilton public school board have unanimously updated an anti-bullying policy they say “protects everyone,” but concerned parents and pro-family leaders say otherwise.
“The Sexual Orientation Strand of the Equity Policy labels students, families and who view natural marriage as ‘heterosexist’ and those who are not supportive of homosexual expression as ‘homophobic’”, said Jim Enos, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Family Action Council.
“Clearly this is bullying those who do not bow to the state worldview,” he said.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (H-WDSB) updated its existing anti-bullying policy in January to reflect the language used in the province’s Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13) passed in June 2012. The board’s Action Plan to curb bullying has also been updated with the goal of providing “safe, inclusive and respectful learning environments for all staff and students.”
The updated policy requires schools to “support pupils who want to establish and lead activities or organziations [sic] that promote a sage [sic] and inclusive learning environment”. It also states that principals “may not refuse the name of gay-straight alliance or a similar name for certain organzations [sic].”
The updated policy also requires the board to provide teachers with “curriculum-linked training strategies on bullying-prevention and intervention”.
Fr. Geoffrey Korz, general secretary of the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton, said the updated policy operates on a “double- standard”.
Fr. Korz says the policy promotes and funds protections and programs for LGBT groups while offering none of the same to religious student groups, whom he says are increasingly exposed to violence and bullying.
“Right now, the Board has one set of rules for most student clubs, but extra requirements targeting faith-based clubs. Board policy even labels students of any traditional faith as ‘homophobic’, directly targeting traditional Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, and Jewish families for ‘re-education’”, he said.
The Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton is calling for the resignation of H-WDSB Superintendent Pamela Reinholdt, who is responsible for bullying prevention. They say she told the group, “Christians are the problem”.
“Superintendent Reinholdt should resign. She has failed for years to be an advocate for the equal protection of all students, and has targeted a single faith group as the source of bullying in schools,” said Fr. Korz.
Enos agrees with Korz’s assessment. “I wonder if this 'protection for all' policy will see H-WDSB put in equal money and effort into supporting 'Christ-World’ alliance clubs which would have equal opportunity for posters in the hall, inclusive instruction portraying Christians as victims of oppression, [and promotion of] Christian heroes,” he said.
Critics have pointed out that “gender and sexual orientation” remains at the bottom of the list of reasons why students are bullied. Surveys have found that body-image/appearance, school grades/marks, and cultural background/ethnicity are the top reasons children are bullied.
The H-WDSB ran a survey last year where 10,020 students were asked questions about bullying behaviors. The board found that “bullying regarding appearance was the most reported reason for bullying students who were victims of bullying (around 21 percent), students who witnessed bullying (36-44 percent) and students engaged in bullying (around 13 percent).”
“Appearance far exceeded any other reasons for being a victim of, witnessing or engaging in bullying/harassment,” the board found.
The survey found that in reference to bullying related to religion/faith, 4-5 percent of students reported being a victim of such bullying, 12-16 percent reported witnessing such bullying, and 3-4 percent reported engaging in such bullying.
The board also mentioned that “sexual orientation” was a reason for bullying, but it did not provide a percentage.
The 2012 H-WDSB survey is comparable to the results of a 2006 survey by the Toronto District School Board, which found that among approximately 105,000 students in the Toronto area, the most common type of bullying was bullying based on body image. The second most common form was over grades.
Critics say that anti-bullying policies that focus on curbing bullying based on sexual orientation do more to advance a political agenda than to protect vulnerable children.
“The Board’s double standard should force every parent of faith to think twice about enrolling their child in H-WDSB schools,” he said.