Ottawa

Gay rights school project turned down by Ottawa Catholic School Board

The parents of two Grade 6 students are criticizing the Ottawa Catholic School Board's decision not to allow a school project on gay rights.

Grade 6 students told social justice fair project was not age appropriate

The parents of two Grade 6 students are criticizing the Ottawa Catholic School Board's decision not to allow a school project on gay rights.

Ann Maloney's daughter, Quinn, and Katherine Hamilton's daughter, Polly, are students at St. George Elementary School in west Ottawa.

Ann Maloney's daughter wasn't allowed to do a project on gay rights for her Catholic school's social justice fair. (CBC)

The two women said their daughters wanted to do a project about gay rights for the school's social justice fair after hearing how the word "gay" was used by their classmates.

Maloney's daughter told her that children her age use the word in an offensive way to tease others.

"I feel like it needs to be talked about because if they have information, then they won't use 'gay' that way,'' Maloney said.

Maloney and Hamilton said their daughters had submitted their school project idea to their teacher, who asked the school's administrators.

About two weeks ago, the girls were told they couldn't do the project.

"They felt an injustice had been done, and I was also very disappointed," Maloney said. "I had not expected it would go that way for them."

"I actually never dreamt this would happen, even in a Catholic school board, in 2014," said Mann-Hamilton.

Maloney said both of their daughters wore rainbow-coloured clothes to school the day after the decision was made, and that the girls drew rainbows on the hands of whoever was interested as a form of protest.

Board says it's an age issue

The parents said they were told that school administrators didn't believe the material would be age-appropriate for the nine- and 10-year-old students in Grades 4 and 5 who would be seeing it at the fair.

"The Ottawa Catholic School Board supports the role of parents as the primary educators of their children," said board chair Ted Hurley in a statement.

"Our Family Life curriculum (Fully Alive) covers all topics around personhood, relationships and sexuality and is developed and taught in an age-appropriate manner. The Board ensures that a pastoral approach is used during the learning process. Parents are notified before sexuality topics are taught in class.

"The principal's decision was made in this context and with the understanding that the project was going to be presented to younger students."

Maloney and Hamilton said they don't understand the decision, given Pope Francis's stance on gay issues, and after presentations on what they call "messy, uncomfortable" topics such as child soldiers and slavery, which were allowed.

"How many children have two moms and two dads in the Catholic board? Why are we still at this point in 2014 when we can't talk about gay rights in a Catholic school?" Maloney said.

Parents say a goal was achieved

Kate Mann-Hamilton says she doesn't believe leaving the Catholic school system would be the right thing to do. (CBC)
Both parents said they hadn't had an issue with the Catholic school system before this, and their view is that working to change systems or institutions is best done from within, not by taking their children out of the Catholic school system, for example.

"Change happens slowly, it's not an easy process and it happens from the ground up," Hamilton said. "We have encouraged our daughters that if there are things you feel strongly about, the way to change them is to start talking."

Maloney said their daughters have accomplished something by getting their peers to talk about gay rights.

"I've been in the teaching business for a long time and there's nothing more self-conscious than a Grade 6 boy. They had Grade 6 boys wearing rainbow tattoos and supporting gay rights because they felt there was an injustice," Maloney said.

"I think that's pretty spectacular."

OCSB's full statement

The Ottawa Catholic School Board supports the role of parents as the primary educators of their children.

Our Family Life curriculum (Fully Alive) covers all topics around personhood, relationships and sexuality and is developed and taught in an age-appropriate manner. The Board ensures that a pastoral approach is used during the learning process. Parents are notified before sexuality topics are taught in class.

The principal's decision was made in this context and with the understanding that the project was going to be presented to younger students.​

Our Board's focus on equity and family life programs ensures students are taught within the context of our faith, with a focus on the dignity of personhood.

Ted J. Hurley
Chairperson, Board of Trustees
Ottawa Catholic School Board
November 26, 2014