A Catholic school in Rhode Island explicitly is denying admission to transgender students in a new policy which also says it will no longer allow any current students who identify as transgender to continue attending the school.
Mount Saint Charles Academy, a co-ed middle and high school in Woonsocket, issued the policy in its Parent-Student Handbook for the 2015-2016 school year. Under the “Philosophy of Admissions,” the Handbook notes:
“Mount Saint Charles Academy is unable to make accommodations for transgender students. Therefore, MSC does not accept transgender students nor is MSC able to continue to enroll students who identify as transgender.”
Administrators at the Brothers of the Sacred Heart school are refusing to comment, and the Diocese of Providence said these policies are handled on a school-by-school basis. It is unclear if any applicants had been denied admission or if any students had been asked to leave due to this policy, according to Go Local Providence. This policy does appear to contradict the school’s mission statement, however, which states that, “Each and every student is known, valued, treasured and taught in partnership with the family.”
Alumni have organized themselves to protest the policy, forming a group on Facebook called Concerned Alumni Against Mount St. Charles Trans-Exclusive Policy, which already has 700 members. They launched a Change.org petition, available here. In a statement, reported at RIFuture.org, alumni expressed their disappointment and said this policy was “wholly uncharacteristic of the institution.” They continued:
“We love Mount Saint Charles and what it meant to us. . .This is an opportunity to learn, grow, and come together to push past our differences. We look forward to speaking further with administration to find a resolution to this painful decision.”
Concerned alumni questioned what was meant by “accommodations” in the policy, and they suggested that solutions for trans students existed “beyond outright expulsion and refusal of admittance.”
Many questions arise when an administration remains silent. Is this policy a response to a transgender applicant or to a student’s coming out? Is it preemptively released to exclude trans students? Is it an honest acknowledgment the school is not a safe space for trans students?
Whatever the answers to these questions and the intentions behind such a ban, the policy itself is not rooted in Catholic teaching or sensibility. Gender identity is a pastoral, not doctrinal issue, as Msgr. Keith Barltrop, a liaison for Cardinal Vincent Nichols to London’s LGBTQI Catholics, said last year. Barltrop affirmed further that the church should be “fully supportive” of people who transition. Catholics in the U.S. overwhelmingly support transgender protections in law and historically Catholic nations have led global progress to protect people with diverse gender identities.
In view of this reality, the policy at Mount Saint Charles reads as simply apathetic. Administrators seems unconcerned to make the extra efforts. This school’s puzzling decision raises two points. First, gender identity is complex. The church’s response must be informed and humble, listening to the lived experiences of trans people and acknowledging scientific and cultural advances in understanding. Catholics should be particularly attentive to the intense marginalization trans people face and the suffering they endure–suffering which is too often caused by church ministers. This type of ministry is particularly needed in Catholic education as a way to support youth in coming to know themselves as God intended.
Second, administrators have a responsibility to trans students, to all students, to the school community, and to the church’s mission to expend the time, energy, and resources necessary to live out their mission statement. Their new policy fails to do so. Thankfully, there are hundreds of alumni —and perhaps even students, parents, faculty, and staff–willing to contribute to this effort and ensure appropriate accommodations can be provided.
Today, LGBT advocates will gather for a peaceful witness outside the school as applicants sit for the entrance exam. Let us hope Mount Saint Charles’ administrators listen to their alumni and reverse this policy by next fall so that students of all genders may truly be “known, valued, and treasured” by then.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry