Defund Ontario’s Catholic schools

Latest flip-flop by Halton trustees shows they’re not in it for the students

The Halton Catholic District School Board has overturned its ban on gay-straight alliances—and yes, it was probably something you said. The board was subject to international ire after its decision to ban gay-straight alliances caught the media’s attention earlier this month. Rubbing salt in the already-festering wounds, board director Alice Anne Lemay decided to draw an unwise parallel to Nazism while defending the board’s decision. “We don’t have Nazi groups either,” she said to Xtra, Canada’s gay and lesbian newspaper. “It’s not in accordance with the teachings of the church. If they wanted to have a club outside of school, fine, just not in school.”

Well, it turned out people didn’t take to that analogy too well, nor did they accept the exclusionary rhetoric implied by the decision. So, unsurprisingly, the board met Tuesday night and voted 6-2 in favour of scrapping the ban on gay-straight alliances. Michael Pautler, Director of Education for the Halton Catholic District School Board, reflected on the decision in a statement released by the board. “The most compelling voices on this issue have come from some of the students in our care,” he said.

It would be silly to buy that explanation, of course. When local MPPs, pundits across the nation, and even celebrity blogger Perez Hilton chastises the board for its obstructive and prejudicial decision, it’s hard to believe board members when they proclaim that they suddenly and spontaneously decided to listen to their students after all. The controversy tarnished the board’s reputation and promoted the impression that its interests lie with the Catholic Church, not with the social wellbeing of its students. When that allegiance is so blaringly apparent, it becomes all the more outrageous that public dollars are still fueling Catholic school boards in Ontario.

It’s not just this unfortunate blemish that highlights the incongruity involved with publicly funding Catholic schools (though “Public Pays School to Discriminate Against Own Students” is an awesome headline). Some Catholic schools across the province still refuse to teach methods of birth control and STI prevention (even though it’s part of Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum) leaving it up to their students to educate themselves on preventing pregnancy and sexual diseases. Creationism is still taught alongside evolution (albeit, supposedly only in religion class), and the hiring practices invoked by some Catholic boards could, arguably, be called discriminatory. Make no mistake–churches and religious schools have every right to conduct themselves in any manner they see fit, but they should not be entitled to the public dime, especially when their methods and philosophies are so subjective.

Catholic schools’ exclusive privilege to public dollars is unjust. Ontario needs to follow Quebec and Newfoundland and move to invest wholly in secular education, tailored to all students regardless of religious background. This Halton scandal shows why funding schools concerned with following the teachings of the church, and not necessarily the interests of its students, should come to an end.