Parents Demand Accountability on Ohio Trip

Toronto, January 7, 2013

      Parents As First Educators joins newsman Brian Lilley of Sun News Network in asking the Ottawa Catholic school board about the reasons for allowing, then cancelling, a trip planned for Ottawa high schoolers to work for the Obama campaign in Ohio during the last US presidential campaign in November, 2012.  In an article in the Ottawa Sun today Lilley questioned the explanation for the cancellation given by principal, Norma McDonald, who told reporters on November 2, 2012 that she did not believe students would be campaigning for Obama on the trip.

      As Lilley shows the documents submitted for the approval of the trip couldn't have been clearer that the students would be assisting "Obama for America."  The board owes parents an honest explanation of why the trip was approved and an engagement of the complainants' point that a Catholic school board should not be assisting a pro-abortion politician.

    The reason given by McDonald on November 2 for the cancellation was that she was concerned that students might encounter negative comments or anxiety if they went on the trip. 

    McDonald stated to the Ottawa Sun that students “were going to observe the electoral process there, so yes, they were going to take in a few activities where they were going to observe politics in action. Were they out campaigning? Absolutely not.”

    Students made similar comments to the same reporter.  It quoted student Aarika Hurst as saying “This was just a learning opportunity to let us see an election because we do elections differently here in Canada."

    At the time Principal McDonald stated on November 2 that students would not be campaigning for Obama, she (and superintendant, Manon Seguin) had previously approved, according to Lilley, a trip proposal from the teacher in charge, Scott Searle, that said “Students will be volunteering with ‘Obama for America’ for the last 5 days of the 2012 Presidential Election. They will be doing ‘Get Out the Vote’ activities by making phone calls and canvassing.”

    Lilley’s investigations reveal that the presentation showed to the students and their parents in the weeks before the trip by their teacher had clearly stated that students would be participating in get out the vote activities.  Because some parents were uncomfortable with the students’ level of participation in the Obama campaign and complained to LifeSiteNews, the trip was cancelled.

    On November 2 McDonald pointed to online comments at the LifeSiteNews story that appeared to be from outside the community and said she hadn’t had any complaints prior to the story breaking.  Was McDonald saying that the polarization in this community was not apparent to her at all or merely that no one had made an official complaint to her?  Either way, the situation is troubling.

    More troubling is that the students followed her example on November 2 and reiterated her words that the trip was just about letting them “see” the election. 

    When McDonald said to the Sun on November 2 that the controversy had offered students teachable moments “in spades,” she wasn’t kidding. 

    Getting out the vote involves phoning and going door to door, or canvassing, to remind voters of the importance of voting for a particular candidate.  Canvassing cannot reasonably be called “observation”.  The students would clearly have known that they were to participate in partisan politics and that they were there to push Obama on to victory.

    After the communications department told McDonald on October 31 that the trip had to be only about observation and not participation, she informed Searle of this by email and he refused to comply.  It is therefore hard to understand how she could write after the controversy had already broken that it was laughable to think that students would be doing anything but observing and also confirm they would be participating in getting out the vote.  Searle had told her he couldn’t agree to take the students as observers only.  If she still didn’t understand what get out the vote was at that stage, it shows a shocking lack of comprehension of the discussion.  If she did, her statement was disingenuous, as Lilley alleges.

    Very serious questions remain at the heart of all of this.  First of all, if students are not to be participating in partisan politics, why were the school authorities all the way up to the superintendant unaware of it?  The board needs to be held accountable for making this information known throughout the board and if new policy needs to be made, to make it. 

    Second, why was there no engagement of the complainants larger point that no Catholic board should be devoting resources to elect a pro-abortion politician?      

    The board needs to give serious examination to its internal messaging to teachers on Catholic social and political teachings.  The fact that this teacher would endorse a pro-abortion politician in the classroom suggests confusion within the Ottawa Catholic school system about the non-negotiable status of the life issues.  The parents were right to say that the school system has the obligation to teach students that they cannot support an intrinsic evil such as abortion.  The word “educare” comes from the word “to lead.”  Catholicism does not teach that all choices are equally valid.  It says that some lead to better and worse outcomes, and that the Church leads us toward those that are better.  A good leader helps the student to realize the wealth of the truth.  He or she offers bread, not a stone, to the child who reaches for it.    

    Ms. McDonald and the principal of St. Matthew’s should be extending an apology to the parents in their communities who pointed out the lack of oversight of the school’s commitment to the sanctity of life.  Clearly much partisan politicking goes on within the school system and board officials turn a blind eye to it, as long as the politics endorsed are not pro-life.  Perhaps the parents who spoke out could suggest ways that the schools could be more pro-active about teaching students about the gift of life.  Then we might agree that the cancellation of the trip was indeed a successful teachable moment.