Edmonton

St. Paul school principal refused to let students form GSA, report says

The principal of a francophone Catholic school in St.Paul, Alta., refused to allow students to form a gay-straight alliance (GSA), an independent report into his actions has concluded.

Principal, suspended with pay for nine months, since reinstated as teacher

École du Sommet is a francophone Catholic school in St.Paul, Alta. Its student population is composed of Catholic and non-Catholic students. (Radio-Canada/ Sébastien Tanguay)

The principal of a francophone Catholic school in St.Paul, Alta., refused to let students form a gay-straight alliance (GSA), an independent report into his actions has concluded.

Students from École du Sommet repeatedly asked to form a GSA at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, said the report, which was written in French by Ontario lawyer Diane Lazenby.

Principal Yvan Beaudoin was suspended with pay in March 2018, after the students filed a complaint with the school board, the Conseil scolaire Centre-Est.

The complaint triggered an independent investigation, which was concluded in June 2018.

A copy of the findings was obtained by Radio-Canada, CBC's French language news network. 

The report concluded that Beaudoin chose to act in accordance with his religious beliefs, instead of following the School Act and the school board's directives. 

"When he had to choose between his legal obligations and his religion, he chose to protect his religion," Lazenby wrote. 

The School Act was amended in December 2017 to require school authorities to allow students to create a GSA should they request one.

Beaudoin declined to be interviewed by Radio-Canada.

He was reinstated as a teacher at the kindergarten to Grade 12 school in January.  

'Unprofessional'

A second report into the principal's actions was ordered by the Alberta Teachers' Association when the students filed their complaint. It was concluded in October 2018.

"It was clear in my mind that Mr. Beaudoin's action appeared on their face to be unprofessional," ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald wrote in a letter sent to the school board in February.

Radio-Canada has obtained a copy of the letter, but has not seen the contents of the report ordered by the ATA.

The ATA opted to deal with Beaudoin's matter behind closed doors, as opposed to conducting a public hearing, said the letter.

That meeting has yet to take place.

"The decision to proceed in this fashion ought not to be taken as an indication that the association discounts the seriousness of Mr. Beaudoin's conduct," Theobald wrote.

The matter would be concluded if Beaudoin accepts responsibility, recognizes that his conduct was unprofessional, demonstrates remorse, and resolves not to repeat such conduct in the future, said the letter. 

Students file complaint 

A group of five students met with Beaudoin three times in October 2017 to speak about their desire to start a GSA, according to Lazenby's report. 

"The reality in our school is that there is bullying towards students that don't identify as heterosexual," the students wrote in their complaint to the school board, which was included in the report. 

They allege that Beaudoin told them that they couldn't have a GSA because "this is a Catholic school, it goes against the Church," said the report. 

Beaudoin encouraged the students to form an inclusive group instead, open to any student victim of discrimination. 

"We felt confused, embarrassed, and humiliated," wrote the students. "We knew at that point, through his attitude and actions, that the group that we wanted would not exist." 

Beaudoin also refused to allow an organization that supports LGBTQ students to present information in the school, saying he didn't know what was contained in the presentation, said the report.

The students abandoned their plans to form a GSA in December 2018, the report said. 

Controversy in community

The principal's suspension triggered an uproar within St. Paul's francophone community. Parents told Radio-Canada last May that they didn't know why Beaudoin had been removed. 

Community members organized protests, demanding answers from the school board. 

Students and parents from École du Sommet in St.Paul, Alta., staged a protest in May 2018 to ask for more information regarding their principal's suspension. (Radio-Canada/ Héloïse Rodriguez)

"It's annoying because Mr. Beaudoin is very close to our community," student Joffre Gratton told Radio-Canada in May. "A lot of people support him in our school."

The school board explained at the time that it couldn't reveal information about the suspension because the investigation was ongoing. 

Tensions in the community were felt by the five students who had asked for the GSA, the report said. 

One student told the investigator that other students had blamed them for the principal's suspension.

"I feel like it wasn't worth it because instead of fixing the problem about bullying against gays, it's going to cause bullying against us," wrote the student in a text message included in the report. 

"I feel terrible." 

With files from Sébastien Tanguay 

About the Author

Josee St-Onge

Journalist

Josee St-Onge is a journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has also reported in French for Radio-Canada in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Reach her at josee.st-onge@cbc.ca