Bill 13 would add a definition of bullying to the Education Act. The legislation would also require school boards to develop policies and guidelines on bullying prevention and intervention that include supports and resources for students such as student-led clubs called gay-straight alliances (GSAs). Finally, it would develop and implement equity and inclusive education policies.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association (OCSTA) has resisted the model of the gay-straight alliance (GSA) because the bishops have stated that the Catholic tradition teaches that sexual identity is only one aspect of the person. In other words, personhood is more fundamental than sexual identity. A club model devoted to general anti-bullying concerns therefore fits the Catholic context in a way GSAs, which are geared to a particular end, the social acceptance of homosexual practices, do not. In recent comments to the Catholic Register, Nancy Kirby of the OCSTA suggested that the Liberal government is working with Trustees on a club format that would be part of a broader equity mandate rather than a GSA per se. She said:
We had been looking at (the framework) based on the (former) mandate of the ministry regarding same-sex students, but if you look at the legislation now, it's in broader terms: racism, disability, (gender), sexual orientation.
OCSTA says that Catholic schools will not call their clubs GSAs. They have not announced a name as yet. The Halton Board previously suggested the name S.I.D.E. (safety, inclusivity, diversity, equity) spaces, which would be run by staff trained in the guidelines developed by the Institute for Catholic Education "to assist students of same-sex orientation."
A Catholic anti-bullying club would would preserve student confidentiality in the provision of resources and in supporting discussion, if requested, and it would not be geared to the acceptance of same-sex sexual activities is is the GSA. Catholic schools have the Constitutional right not to have clubs that positively approve of same-sex sexual activities and a provincial law cannot override this right. A club in a Catholic school does not have to support anyone, student or otherwise, who pressures a school community to make statements opposed to the Catholic religious tradition.
A number of the considerations of Bill 13 in its present from invite some concern about implementation in Catholic schools. In particular one would have to query 1) to what extent students would have to be supported in leading the activities of the clubs and 2) how Catholic beliefs about the staging of sexual education is to be respected in the EIE implementation. Catholic sexual education respects the period of sexual latency for children.
The Conservative bill, Bill 14, does not mandate GSAs nor EIE education. It protects the identity of those reporting bullying complaints in the interest of increasing incidences of reporting, which is a major delimiting factor in managing the bullying problem in schools. It also provides that local school boards will produce bullying plans that are suitable to particular boards, which respects the differences between public and Catholic boards.
Provincial Parliament is dissolved and reconvenes February 21, 2012.
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