Peter Baklinski

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Ottawa Catholic school board amends partnership policy but critics fear scandals will continue

Peter Baklinski

OTTAWA, Ontario, June 18, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) amended its “Partnership, Sponsorship, and Donations” policy last week after repeatedly facing parental backlash over choices of school trips, events, and speakers that parents say were hostile toward the Catholic faith. But life and family leaders and parents are concerned that the amendments will do little or nothing to curb the scandals happening in the schools under the board’s watch.

“The amended policy is way too ambiguous and has too much wiggle room,” said Jack Fonseca, Project Manager for Campaign Life Catholics to LifeSiteNews.com.

“What this policy needed is a simple statement, such as: ‘We will not engage in partnerships or sponsorships with individuals or organizations who publicly advocate for positions contrary to Catholic moral teaching nor will we give a platform to any speaker who publicly advocates for such positions.’”

While Teresa Pierre, president of Parents As First Educators (PAFE), called the policy a “step in the right direction,” she said she “wished for clearer vetting procedures [...] to better reduce the possibility of problematic partner choices slipping through.”

James Doak, a concerned parent who made a presentation at the board meeting last Tuesday when the policy was amended, said PAFE and the other parents at the meeting did "excellent work" but said overall it was "largely a disaster for orthodox parents."

“In the end, the Board added a small statement about ‘Moral Teachings of the Church’. However, they have no accountabilities or mechanisms for determining if partners follow the ‘Moral Teachings of the Church’. In addition, it appears to me that the new policy does not apply to controversial speakers in schools or groups being visited in El Salvador during field trips. The new policy definition of partnerships included only businesses, post-secondary institutions, government departments or community agencies."

Earlier this year, a hundred or more parents packed the OCSB office demanding that the board change its policy in light of what they called “scandals” that involved schools in the board. These included:

  • A civics trip to campaign for the reelection of pro-abortion President Obama;
  • A visit by same-sex ‘marriage’ and abortion supporter Justin Trudeau;
  • A ‘social justice’ trip to El Salvador to visit groups that advocate for legalized abortion, legalized prostitution, the promotion of contraception, and the right to adoption for lesbian couples;
  • A co-op placement of a student with a homosexual activist organization called Jer's Vision that promotes the normalization of homosexuality and partners with the pro-abortion group Canadians for Choice, as well as with pro-prostitution groups Maggie's Sex Work and Sexapalooza.

PAFE demanded at that time that the OCSB change its policy so that board partners “may not publicly undermine the goals of Catholic education.”

OCSB’s amended “Partnership, Sponsorship, and Donations” policy

The June 11 amended policy states: “Partnerships and sponsorships with individuals, parish and community groups, business, industry and government shall be forged to ensure respect for the distinctive nature of Catholic education and adherence to the Roman Catholic tradition. The Board’s philosophy, vision statement, as well as Catholic Social and Moral Teaching, will also direct partnerships and sponsorships.”

The policy continues: “Students shall not be involved in promoting commercial products in any way and shall not be involved in partisan political activity.”

Regarding administrative procedures, the policy states: “Any business sponsoring activities within the Board or its schools will be accepted as environmentally safe, and be consistent with a healthy lifestyle and aligned with Catholic Graduate Expectations. Controversial products and services are to be avoided (e.g., alcoholic beverages and tobacco products), as well as influences contrary to Catholic social and moral teaching.”

“The goal of any partnership will be to enhance the quality and relevance of education for learners and it should deemphasize the financial and/or acquisition aspects, while promoting a commitment to the Catholic Graduate Expectations.”

According to the “Catholic Graduate Expectations,” young men and women having completed Catholic secondary education are expected to be a “discerning believer formed in the Catholic Faith community” and a “responsible citizen who gives witness to Catholic social teaching by promoting peace, justice and the sacredness of human life.”

OCSB ignores parents’ pleas for tighter policy

During the meeting prior to the policy’s adoption, PAFE representative Bruce Clark argued that the policy should be amended to better vet speakers with positions held publicly contrary to the Catholic faith.

When Trustee Butler asked Clark whether he did not think that something valuable could be gained from hearing anyone speak, Clark replied: “Some things are just morally evil. Is it wise to bring them into the schools?"

Doak agreed with Clark, asking the Board in his presentation to “[p]lease develop a clear vetting policy for speakers and partnerships with NGOs and for field trips to places such as El Salvador.”

Quoting a statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he said: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Doak pointed to a Cardus survey that he said showed Catholic school graduates were more likely than public school graduates to support gay ‘marriage’ and to believe that religion is a private matter that should be kept out of public debates on social and political issues.

“Clearly, the strategy of offering children speakers who have a ‘diversity of views’ on fundamental moral views is not working,” he said.

Despite concerns raised, trustees did not propose any amendments to the policy and voted unanimously to adopt it.

Fonseca said that the policy will still allow OCSB teachers and staff to flout Catholic teaching in choices of speakers and partners.

“Why permit continued ambiguity in the wording such as ‘to be avoided’, unless it’s to permit some flexibility for teachers and staff to continue flouting Catholic teaching. Why not say ‘are strictly prohibited’? This is an invitation for dissidents to continue bringing in anti-Catholic speakers and say, ‘Well, in this case, it couldn’t be avoided’.”

LifeSiteNews.com contacted the OCSB for comment by phone and email, asking if the amended policy will bar same-sex ‘marriage’ and abortion advocates — like Justin Trudeau — from speaking at OCSB schools, but did not hear back by press time.

A Catholic blogger at Socon or Bust offered encouragement to Ottawa parents for “pressuring” the OCSB to better align its policies with the Catholic faith, despite policy shortcomings.

“Despite this improvement, the language in the policy remains ambiguous to the extent that it’s not clear that anti-life speakers will be systematically turned away or that students will be protected from going on trips to visit anti-life organizations in the Global South.”

He said that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and that parents have “obtained a first positive step in the right direction” and that with “continued vigilance, we can build on this going forward.”

Foreshadowing battles yet to come, he said: “Word to the trustees: if anything goes wrong under this policy, we’ll be back for more changes. Count on it.”

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