Toronto Catholic school board votes to include gender identity, expression in code of conduct – CBC.ca

Toronto Catholic school board votes to include gender identity, expression in code of conduct - CBC.ca
TCDSB votes to add terms such as gender identity and gender expression to code of conduct
Following months of contentious debate, the Toronto Catholic school board voted to amend its code of conduct to include broader protections for LGBTQ students.

At a marathon meeting that lasted until nearly 2 a.m. Friday, trustees voted eight-to-four in favour of a motion to add four terms to the board's code: gender identity, gender expression, family status and marital status.

All four terms are identified in the Ontario Human Rights Code as prohibited grounds for discrimination.

The issue had divided trustees and parents since it first surfaced in March. The motion initially went to a board subcommittee, called Catholic Education and Living our Catholic Values, that voted against adding the terms, arguing they contravene the church's teachings.

Those divisions were on display at the seven-hour meeting, with multiple parents vehemently arguing against an expanded code of conduct.

"I feel actually extremely positive about the result. We got a pretty strong majority to approve a code that is inclusive and protects the marginalized."

He added that it "would have been ideal to reach this conclusion much quicker than we did."

He said the vote sends a strong message to LGBTQ students in the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB).

Paolo de Buono, an elementary teacher at St. James Catholic School and one of the earliest proponents of the motion, said the meeting got especially heated when a faction tried to have the vote deferred for several weeks.

Now that the matter has been decided, the entire school community "can move on and build," de Buono said.

The TCDSB's move comes on the heels of an order from the Ontario Ministry to Education to boards across the province to update their codes of conduct.

An October 2018 directive from the ministry said noted that the provincial code of conduct had been revised to include the four terms, and school boards should follow suit. Another directive in August said that the amendments should be made by Nov. 4. 

In an email statement to CBC Toronto, Education Minister Stephen Lecce expressed his support for "TCDSB affirming the importance of human rights and human dignity for all children.

"I have long believed that every child should see themselves reflected in their class, curriculum, and school community."

Di Pasquale noted that the TCDSB has hired a human rights adviser who will help schools move forward with more inclusive policies.

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Maria Rizzo, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, speaks to the media at City Hall, in Toronto, in an April 24, 2019, file photo. Rizzo, who has supported including the terms, said schools must be safe places for all students.

Trustees at Canadas largest Catholic school board have voted to include terms such as gender identity and gender expression in the boards code of conduct after months of debate on whether there was a religious reason to exclude them.

The vote in the early hours of Friday followed delegations from the public to consider whether the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) should add the four terms – gender identity, gender expression, marital status and family status – to its list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.

Staff at the TCDSB appeared to have inadvertently omitted those terms when they updated the boards policy to align with a revised provincial code.

Board chair Maria Rizzo, who has supported including the terms, said schools must be safe places for all students. “TCDSB students, families and staff deserve a board that sees them, includes them, loves and respects them regardless of differences, she said Friday.

The code of conduct is a document that sets standards of behaviour for students and staff. The Ontario government sent a memo last October to school boards asking them to review their codes and ensure they line up with the provinces revised one.

A handful of trustees were opposed to including the four terms, as were a number of delegates who were concerned that they were not compatible with the Catholic Church or its teachings.

However, a report from the Archdiocese of Toronto, delivered to the board late Thursday, supports changing the code of conduct to include the terms, in keeping with the ministry directive. The report says the changes will be supported as long as the policy will be interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the Church and protected in legislation.

Paolo De Buono, a teacher at the TCDSB, first brought the issue forward to the board in March when he noticed the omission. He said Friday that he wasnt surprised the decision took so long: I expected to find examples of what I see as a harmful difficulty, a stigma, in public Catholic education when talking about LGBTQ students and families.

He added: I am proud that this decision for inclusion has been made realizing that this is one step toward the deeper inclusion that must happen in communication and practice.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement Friday that he was pleased with the TCDSBs decision.

I have long believed that every child should see themselves reflected in their class, curriculum and school community. Today, we can say with confidence that they do, he said.

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