Figures on both sides of Alberta’s debate over whether Catholic schools can teach a different curriculum on LGBTQ issues have made claims that this issue could severely threaten church-affiliated education in the province.
Alberta and the Northwest Territories’ seven bishops signed a letter for “Catholic Education Sunday 2017” in which they said “calls to dismantle our publicly funded Catholic school system are growing ever louder,” in large part due to tensions over LGBTQ issues. The bishops wrote:
“In fact, we saw this recently in the heated public discourse on the human sexuality part of the school curriculum. Much of the media frenzy we witnessed was based upon inaccurate reporting and a misrepresentation of our moral teaching. . .Catholic schools teach the provincial curriculum through a Catholic lens. Calls to dismantle our publicly funded Catholic school system are growing ever louder, and we must not ignore them. It is important that everyone be ready to stand up for our faith and for our schools.”
Meanwhile, a union leader in the Alberta Teachers’ Association who represents educators in Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised his concerns over the proposal for a separate LGBTQ curriculum. Brice Unland voiced his support for a single sexual education curriculum instead of two curricula, but allowing Catholic schools to supplement lessons if they chose to do so. Unland expressed concern over the difficulty that dual curricula could pose for teachers, reported RD News Now:
“‘Our job is to teach the program of studies as developed by the Alberta government – that’s who’s authorized to create a program of studies. We have a legal obligation to teach that, whatever it happens to be. . .Now if the Catholic superintendents and Catholic school boards develop a parallel curriculum that they would like us to teach, they can ask us lawfully to do so and all of a sudden teachers are in a very difficult situation where we have to follow the legality of teaching the program as developed by the province and at the same time following the lawful order of our employer, the school board.'”
Kareen Lambert, a parent with an LGBTQ child who attends Catholic school, was also concerned about the content of any separate curriculum:
“‘The existence of transgender and non-binary individuals is not a theory, it is not an ideology. It is a simple human fact. . .It worries me that our children would be getting a partial education on something so critical to their health. There are transgender, non-binary, lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual and asexual children in these classes and they need education on these issues just as much as straight kids do.'”
This most recent dispute, the latest in a years long debate over how Alberta’s Catholic schools should and could handle LGBTQ education issues, erupted after the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta submitted a grant proposal to allot $66,000 to help develop “a parallel human sexuality curriculum that reflects many common outcomes embedded in our Catholic faith.”
Education Minister David Eggen rejected the grant proposal, expressing the government’s commitment to support all LGBTQ youth. But he reiterated that the Alberta government and Catholic school officials retain a strong working relationship even amid the disputes, according to the Global News:
“I think there’s some sensitivity. . .Certainly our relationship with Catholic school boards around the province has never been stronger. We built a record amount of schools over the last couple of years. We’re working closely with them in terms of curriculum. . .We rejected that [the superintendents’ proposal], but certainly, we have to separate these two things and work on the relationship that we’ve always nurtured over the last couple of years.”
Yet, it seems that Alberta and the Northwest Territories’ bishops sense more weakness in their relationship with the provincial governments and with the provinces’ citizens. In a statement made last year, a now-retired Alberta bishop referred to LGBTQ policies being implemented in Catholic schools as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.” He refused to apologize for this remark, and not much progress has been made by his successor towards healing wounds.
There are many reasons why Canadians might want to defund Catholic education and there are many reasons why other Canadians would want to retain such a system. But a contributing factor against the bishops’ position in these cases is their unwillingness to truly support LGBTQ students and educate all students properly on gender and sexuality matters. If these Canadian bishops are so deeply concerned with the future of publicly-funded Catholic education, they might stop announcing a call to arms and start reflecting on why public sentiments are trending against them, starting with this unfavorable separate curriculum proposal.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 11, 2017