Catholic teacher launches test of ‘val­ues’ con­tracts

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - EVA FERGUSON

Cal­gary Catholic School Dis­trict of­fi­cials have con­firmed that its teach­ers are re­quired to sign doc­u­ments that sug­gest same-sex or com­mon-law re­la­tion­ships are a breach of em­ploy­ment con­tracts, amid a provincewide con­tro­versy over the prac­tice.

But now that a Cal­gary teacher has brought her case be­fore the Al­berta Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, LGBTQ ad­vo­cates say the is­sue will con­tinue to be chal­lenged, es­pe­cially since the NDP’s Bill 24 leg­is­lates all schools to cre­ate GSAs for stu­dents that want that sup­port.

“How can these con­tracts — these Catholic­ity clauses — be al­lowed to stand when they are clearly dis­crim­i­na­tory?” said Kristo­pher Wells, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor with the Fac­ulty of Health and Com­mu­nity Stud­ies at MacEwan Univer­sity.

“It’s hard to believe that in 2018, when same-sex mar­riage is le­gal in this coun­try, that any­one could lose their job be­cause of that.”

Wells says al­low­ing such clauses that re­quire teach­ers to up­hold “Catholic val­ues,” which in­clude en­gag­ing only in re­la­tion­ships deemed ap­pro­pri­ate by the church, also cre­ate a dan­ger­ous en­vi­ron­ment of fear and ex­clu­sion not just among teach­ers but also young stu­dents.

“This is not a sys­tem that is di­rectly sup­ported by the church. It is a pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem sup­ported by tax­pay­ers,” Wells said.

“But there is this ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ men­tal­ity that cre­ates feel­ings of stress, de­spair, where you have to re­main silent to main­tain em­ploy­ment. That not only im­pacts teach­ers, but it de­nies LGBTQ youth the im­por­tant role mod­els they need.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Cal­gary Catholic School Dis­trict, all teach­ers have to sign a con­tract that outlines a va­ri­ety of ex­pec­ta­tions, one of which in­cludes liv­ing “a life­style and de­port­ment in har­mony with Catholic teach­ing and prin­ci­ples.”

Richard Svo­boda, su­per­in­ten­dent of hu­man re­sources at CCSD, con­firmed “any­one who is not liv­ing a life­style in align­ment with the church, that piece of the con­tract would im­pact them.

“Re­la­tion­ships that would be ac­cept­able are those rec­og­nized by the Catholic Church, that have to be ac­knowl­edged by a Catholic priest.”

Svo­boda then added, “that would not in­clude a same-sex re­la­tion­ship or a com­mon-law re­la­tion­ship.”

Teach­ers are dealt with on a “case-by-case” ba­sis and en­cour­aged to meet with a Catholic priest.

“It isn’t for me to de­ter­mine whether they are right or wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church,” Svo­boda said.

“We pro­vide them with av­enues to rec­on­cile.”

Svo­boda said he is aware of openly gay teach­ers in the sys­tem, but none have had their po­si­tions ter­mi­nated.

How­ever, for­mer Cal­gary Catholic school prin­ci­pal Barb Hamil­ton has re­cently taken her case to the Al­berta Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, al­leg­ing she was forced to leave her po­si­tion be­cause of her sex­u­al­ity.

Wells said there is also a sec­ond on­go­ing hu­man-rights com­plaint in­volv­ing an LGBTQ teacher in Al­berta who does not want to be iden­ti­fied.

In the past week, teach­ers in Ed­mon­ton and Red Deer have also raised con­cerns about hav­ing to sign Catholic­ity clauses that dic­tate their life­style choices and dis­cour­age be­ing gay.

Tonya Cal­laghan, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Cal­gary’s Werk­lund School of Ed­u­ca­tion, left her job as a Catholic school teacher to re­search in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized ho­mo­pho­bia in the Catholic school sys­tem.

These clauses are dis­pro­por­tion­ately used to push out LGBTQ teach­ers, she said.

Schools aren’t us­ing con­tracts to squeeze out teach­ers who use con­tra­cep­tion or live with boyfriends, she said.

“We don’t see news sto­ries about that. Those things are not hap­pen­ing.”

Wells added if the Al­berta Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion dis­cov­ers that LGBTQ teach­ers are in fact be­ing treated dif­fer­ently than teach­ers who are straight but liv­ing with part­ners out of wed­lock, the vi­o­la­tions will have to go be­fore higher courts.

It isn’t for me to de­ter­mine whether they are right or wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church.

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