Edmonton Catholic school board chastises 2 trustees for 'blatant disrespect'

The Edmonton Catholic School board scolded two trustees at a public meeting Monday for making comments it says are against Catholic values.

Marilyn Bergstra removed as vice chair, Patricia Grell reprimanded

Marilyn Bergstra (right) listens on at a Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting in which she was removed as vice chair. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

The Edmonton Catholic School board scolded two trustees at a public meeting Monday for making comments it says are against Catholic values.

The board removed Marilyn Bergstra as vice chair, while Patricia Grell was called out for her conduct.

Board chair Laura Thibert read a statement accusing both of making statements that do not align with Catholic values.

"The board would like to publicly state that it does not condone trustee Bergstra's and trustee Grell's recent conduct," Thibert read. "And does not agree with their comments or position or their blatant disrespect for the decisions made by the board."

Bergstra, who said she was taken aback and didn't know what was coming, sat through the meeting looking stunned with what was being said about her.

Bergstra, who has been vice chair of the board since October 2016, will lose the extra pay that comes with the job.

Edmonton Catholic School Board chair Laura Thibert (left) reads a statement accusing Marilyn Bergstra and Patricia Grell of showing 'blatant disrespect' for decisions made by the board. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Grell was not at the meeting, but watched the drama unfold on social media while working her day job.

"It's really too bad because they never talked to me," she said explaining nobody from the board asked her to clarify any comments she had made either on social media or to the mainstream media.

Contentious positions

Bergstra jumped to her own defence at the meeting saying all she's ever done is stand up for parents and students.

"I don't believe when there is a difference of opinion that merits grounds to remove somebody," she said.

After 10 years as a trustee, Bergstra said she still has no thoughts of leaving despite feeling hurt over the board`s action.

"No one wants to feel like their integrity is being attacked," she said.

Bergstra believes it's not one issue, but a number that she's disagreed with the board on including ideas like revamping sex education as well as her support for LGBTQ students.

Her most recent motion was to permit students to participate in commencement ceremonies upon graduating, even if they don't obtain the mandatory nine credits in religious studies.

Commencement ceremony

Grell too had questions about the commencement ceremony requirements especially after hearing from students.

Like Bergstra, Grell believes she's being admonished after pushing for change on a number of issues. 

Grell went against a board decision in arguing a transgender girl should be allowed to use the a girls' washroom in school two years ago.

More recently she was accused of violating policy for questioning about the board's decision to extend the superintendent's contract.   

"Why do we need trustees if we're just going to keep the status quo?" she said. "That's not why we're there. We're there to lead."

Trustees also voted to axe Bergstra from her role with the Alberta School Boards Association board of directors.
Board chair Laura Thibert said recent statements by trustees Bergstra and Grell have harmed Catholic education. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

Thibert told reporters after the meeting the board was taking a stand against the trustees after hearing from parents and for the best interest of students.

"They do expect the leadership of the district to also have Catholic school values and when those values weren't being expressed then there is concern about the credibility of the board as well as the credibility of the district," Thibert said.

Both Bergstra and Grell stressed they do believe in Catholic values in spite of the statement to the contrary by the board. 

Alberta Minister of Education David Eggen has expressed concerns about the troubled Catholic school board.

Last year Eggen appointed his deputy minister to work with the board on improving its accountability.

Trustees are expected to choose a new vice chair at the next board meeting on May 30.