Public schools shouldn’t stifle free expression

Catholic school students suspended for pro-choice message


It seems the crackdown on dissenting ideology continues at Catholic high schools in Ontario. Two months ago, the Halton board made headlines for banning gay-straight alliances in its publicly funded schools. Now, St. Patrick High School in Thunder Bay, Ontario, has decided that its students cannot express pro-choice opinions. Because the best type of public education is an exclusionary and highly ideological public education, right?

Grade 10 student Alexandria Szeglet was sent home from school last week for wearing a green strip of tape with the word “Choice” on her uniform. That day, the school was holding a pro-life event where some students wore red pieces of tape with the word “Life” written on them. As Szeglet began handing out her green strips to fellow students, she was told to remove the tape or go home. Smartly, she chose the latter.

Still, other students carried on the message, and according to reports, as many as 100 students were sent home. John de Faveri, Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board director disputed those numbers, while still adding, “On the issue, pro-life is part of the Catholic stand. The pro-choice students were not appropriate in the context of a Catholic school.”

As the news of the incident spread, the school board’s position seemed to shift.

“It wasn’t anything about what the students were trying to say; it was the inappropriate way they went about it,” de Faveri told the Globe and Mail. “They didn’t get approval from the school. They didn’t do anything of the sort.”

Pardon my lack of faith, but when the issue of gay-straight alliances came to the Halton Catholic board, chair Alice Anne LeMay said that students would be denied a request for a GSA even if they sought approval from the school. “It’s not in accordance with the teachings of the church,” she said.

Similarly, I’m skeptical that Szeglet and her friends would have been permitted to express their pro-choice positions, even if they had asked permission from the school beforehand. Let’s not kid ourselves; the issue is not that these students defiantly defaced their uniforms with strips of illicit green material without permission, it’s that they expressed a position fundamentally opposed to the teachings of the church.

The bitsy snag is here is that St. Patrick is a public school, funded by public dollars. Yet somehow, administrators feel compelled to stifle free expression. I don’t think I need to explain the dissonance here.

It’s bad enough that taxpayers in Ontario are footing the bill for only one type of religious education (when really, they should be funding none), but it becomes intolerable when that education is restrictive and exclusionary. Disallowing students to form positive alliances or express their opinions openly exemplifies just that.  At an age where students should be encouraged to think critically, schools shouldn’t be the ones to shut down the debate.


Public schools shouldn’t stifle free expression

  1. The Ontario government should stop funding a Catholic school system that disagrees with the values it expresses in law.

    Ontario permits abortion, but funds a school system that teaches it is evil and punishes students for expressing support for the policy.

    Ontario supports gay rights and insists on the promotion of gay tolerance in schools, but permits Catholic school boards to ban gay-straight alliances citing “just discrimination”.

    A house divided against itself cannot stand. Jesus Christ himself said that. Either we fully become a Catholic theocracy or we expunge the elements of partial Catholic theocracy we have now.

  2. Great article, Robyn.

    It’s amazing that deFaveri can lie like that: “[i]t wasn’t anything about what the students were trying to say; it was the inappropriate way they went about it.”

    So, Mr. deFaveri, if a student politely “asked for permission” to wear a pro-choice t-shirt, are you suggesting that they would get it? There’s only one way to find out. Are you listening, pro-choice students at Catholic schools across Ontario? :)

    deFavri’s approach smells like the same kind of ham-fisted, deceitful damage control that all Catholic School Boards are now engaged in on the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances: “No, we don’t ban them! There is no ban!” So, can you show me one school that has a GSA? “Um, we don’t keep track of such things.” If a student wanted to start a GSA in your schools, could they? “Um. Next question.” How is that different from a ban? “This interview is over.”

    How on earth can Catholic Board officials–people on the public payroll–lie through their teeth to the public?

    Here’s how: they know that every single MPP in Ontario is afraid of the Bishops “unleashing a firestorm”. Not one politician has the backbone to say, “Permit gays out of the closet or lose public funding,” or, “Permit legal pro-choice expression or lose funding.” Not one. Our current education minister, Leona Dombrowsky, is a former Catholic School trustee chair. She refuses to even discuss the matter.

    Quebec and Newfoundland did away with public funding for Catholic schools ten years ago. There was no firestorm.

  3. Re: “deFavri’s approach smells like the same kind of ham-fisted, deceitful damage control that all Catholic School Boards are now engaged in on the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances”

    Catholic school boards would never engage in deceit. The Christian devil is also known as the deceiver and the deceiver and the liar. They would never resort to his tactics.

    We must take them at their word that it is not costly to bus hundred of thousands of student past their nearest publicly funded school each day to attend another publicly funded school farther away (often in another community). We must take them at their word that the enormous duplication and overlap in the Ontario school system is not costly.

    We must take them at their word that they don’t discriminate against non-Catholics in admission or against non-Catholic teachers in hiring and promotion. We must take them at their word that they don’t discriminate against gays, because “just discrimination” (as specified in Catholic teaching) is really not discrimination at all you see.

    They would never deceive anyone in promoting and protecting their uniquely Catholic educational privilege. ;-)

  4. I agree – we should do away with public funding of Catholic schools. If Quebec can do it – so can we.

    Religion/religious values should be a family/church/hall/mosque etc. matter. Schools could still have the option to offer optional religious classes where numbers warrant. There should be alternative classes (morals/philosophy/religious history/comparison of religions of the world) for the rest of the school population.

    Get rid of this Catholic education system leaching funds from the public!

  5. I have friends who are part of the pro-life club at this school so this is what they said happened – since you didn’t bother asking any pro-life students for your “news” piece: They asked at least two weeks in advanced to alter their school uniform by putting a pro-life sticker on their shirt that says “Life”. They got permission, as they had done for the last four years.

    The abortion advocates put “Choice” on their shirt to protest the pro-lifers without permission from their school. When some of these protesters were asked to take them off because they didn’t receive permission, they refused and some swore at and argued with their teachers.

    This is why they were suspended.

    Though I’m not Catholic, I do believe parents and taxpayers who choose to fund Catholic schools do so understanding what Catholic teachings are, including on abortion. So your argument that because the schools are publicly funded, then they should allow for any worldview is moot. If members of the public choose to have a separate school board that teaches the values of the Catholic Church and that they choose to fund through their taxes, shouldn’t that be their choice? Why are you so anti-choice against what they can do with their bodies?

  6. Wow, it’s mind bogling how stupid and un-educated people really are. Do any of you actually know the truth about what happened? Do any of you know the real reason why students were suspended? Why are people so quick to believe everything the read? Wouldn’t De Faveri know the numbers and not some reporter who is 1500 km away? Do any of you know what Catholic education is about? Maybe before commenting, you should do your own homework and research for yourself. For all all of you that blast De Faveri and Catholic education, you are a bunch of uninformed idiots. Robyn, glad you are collecting your paycheck for writing a b.s. story that is missing all the critical facts. Next time, get your facts straight.