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Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students With Learning Challenges

On Thursday, April 20, 2017 Greta Gerstner, founder of the Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students with Learning Challenges was introduced in the Alberta Legislature.  The following is the Hansard which explains what the Alliance is hoping to accomplish.  Here is a link to their Facebook page if you are interested in learning more.  Thank you Greta for all that you are doing to promote better support for our students with learning challenges.

The Speaker: Welcome.

The hon. Member for Edmonton-Ellerslie, Loyola: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s my pleasure to introduce to you and through you to all members of this Assembly a valuable constituent of Edmonton-Ellerslie, Greta Gerstner, the founder of Strategic Alliance for Alberta Students with Learning Challenges. This group was born out of Greta’s strong desire to change the education system to help all students with learning challenges. I’ve been working closely with her as she hopes to change how the system works, specifically focusing on how to eliminate roadblocks. She hopes to bring awareness to all Albertans that by not providing the students with learning challenges the help they need to succeed, we will add a long-term cost to the health care, justice, and social services systems. However, if we invest in appropriate supports now, these students can be productive and contributing members of society. I ask her to please stand and for all of us to welcome her with the traditional warm welcome of this Assembly.

 

Open Letter to Catholic Constituents

It would have been helpful had the Board Chair called Trustee Bergstra and I to ask if indeed what was written in the Edmonton Journal was in fact what we said to the reporter Janet French.  I told Janet French that we need to be more transparent that 9 credits of Religion are required in order to cross the stage at graduation.  Put it on the high school registration form and in the Administrative Regulation 300 #6 c).  Please go to the registration form and the AR 300 links and you will see that there is no mention of being denied graduation for incompletion of the 9 Religion credits.

Trustee Bergstra and I both suggested that perhaps there is another way of encouraging students to take their Religion credits without denying them graduation with their peers.  I told Janet French that it seems counter intuitive to use Religion which teaches students about compassion and mercy — to threaten students.  I suggested to Ms. French that those students who are denied attendance at their grad for not completing their 9 credits would not feel too warm toward the Catholic faith in the future.  Perhaps then there is a better way.  My son for example, who is graduating this year form his ECSD high school was very anxious about not completing his Religion credits because he had 2 diploma exams scheduled at the same time as the required Religion seminars.  One of his friends due to illness had difficulty completing his Religion credits and began to worry that he wouldn’t be able to cross the stage with his friends.  I read through their high school’s Student Handbook and didn’t see it written anywhere that grad would be denied to those who didn’t complete their Religion credits so this policy is an “oral policy” which is leading to great confusion and unneeded anxiety.  Archbishop MacDonald High at least states it in their Student Handbook and references AR 300 6, c) on page 32.  If you read AR 300 however, there is no mention of grad being denied as a consequence of not taking the 9 credits.

Had Trustee Bergstra been permitted to bring her motion forward at the April public board meeting, all of what I am telling you now would have been made public.  All we were saying was, “is there a better way of encouraging students to take their Religion credits without denying them graduation with their peers?” and if there isn’t, can we be more transparent about what is required?  Can this requirement and the consequences for not fulfilling them, be put in our Administrative Regulations?  Can we also ensure that the requirements and the consequences be clearly stated on the ECSD Registration Form?  If not, why not?  Why is this policy not made clear to our parents and students?

Neither Trustee Bergstra nor I told the reporter that religion shouldn’t be taught in Catholic schools or that learning religion should be optional.  We were calling for more transparency and for more compassion—values I think as a Catholic constituent you probably would agree with.

Just for your information though, because our Catholic schools are 100% publicly funded by the Alberta government, the School Act S. 50 does state that if a parent wishes to exempt their child from taking Religion classes, they can do so without academic penalty.  I suggested this very solution to the reporter: let the parents who are the first educators of their children (as Parents for Choice in Education repeatedly state), write a letter to exempt their child if there is an issue with completing the required credits.  Sometimes there are occasions when a student may need to be exempted from the Religion requirements – for illness or for conflicts with diploma exams for example.  Let’s not use grad attendance which is a non-academic requirement as a carrot to coerce our students into taking Religion.  It is creating unnecessary anxiety in our students and in my opinion conflicts with the values of Catholic education as expressed by Pope Francis in his book Education for Choosing Life:

“an essential mission of every Christian educator is to commit entirely to inclusion, to work for inclusion…our schools must govern themselves according to a well-defined standard: fraternal solidarity…teachers, directors, pastors, fathers, mothers, students, all of us can be signs of a different world where each is recognized, accepted, included, dignified, and not only for (their) utility but for (their) intrinsic value as a human being, son or daughter of God” (pp. 26-27)

My advice to you and all the other Edmonton Journal readers out there – including the members of our Board:  please remember that you can’t believe everything you read.  This is something I learned very early on in my education. Trustee Bergstra’s and my comments were taken out of context and because of this I am no longer granting Janet French any more interviews.  My question is why was Ms. French so willing to do this?  What were her motives?  And why did members of the Board not phone either Trustee Bergstra or I to verify the accuracy of Ms. French’s article?  Why were they so prepared to judge us without any prior conversations?  Is it because we don’t accept the status quo and ask questions?  Is it because we have supported vulnerable LGBTQ students and staff?

In his book The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis writes:

“Let us accept others;  let us accept that there is a fitting variety, that this person is different, that this person thinks about things in this way or that – that within one and the same faith we can think about things differently.  Or do we tend to make everything uniform?  But uniformity kills life. The life of the Church is variety, and when we impose this uniformity on everyone, we kill the gifts of the Holy Spirit”. (p. 35)

Please in the future, if you have any concerns about my actions as a Catholic trustee, please give me the benefit of the doubt, don’t judge me and give me a chance to explain myself.  Conversations are much more productive and helpful than instant judgement and condemnation.

Sincerely,

ECSD Trustee Patricia Grell, Ward 71

Support for Morgane Oger, Candidate for Vancouver False Creek

My friend Morgane Oger is running for the NDP in Vancouver False Creek in the May 9, 2017 provincial election.  She has been very active in Vancouver’s education scene, chairing the Vancouver District Parent Council for a number of years.  She is an engineer by education, has worked in the tech sector and is a human rights advocate instrumental in bringing forward Bill C 16.  She also happens to be a transgender woman.  Yesterday, it came to light through a CTV report that a man named William Whatcott is handing out flyers in Vancouver False Creek encouraging people not to vote for her in the name of religion because her gender is a lie. “The truth is there are only two genders, male and female and they are God given and unchangeable,” the handouts read.  As followers of Christ we believe in Jesus’ central message of mercy and love–especially towards the most marginalized of society.  We don’t believe in using Christianity to spread hate.  Desmond Tutu said that “If you are neutral in times of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.  Please contact the following Christian organizations in Vancouver to ask them not to be neutral but denounce Mr. Whatcott’s actions through a public statement in the media:

Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, Archbishop Michael Miller, CSB:  604 683 0281

Anglican Diocese of New Westminster Bishop Melissa Skelton: Contact 604-684- 6306 or bishop@vancouver.anglican.ca

First United Church, Executive Director Rev. Dr. Carmen Lansdowne:  604 681-8365

Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, Executive Minister, Rev. Jeremy Bell 604-225-5916 office@cbwc.ca

Thank you for your support in the name of Jesus who is Love.

Support for Artists in Residence Program

Dear Friends,

Last year, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA) cut funding for the Artists in Residence program by 50% in response to the Government of Alberta’s 5% cut to their budget.  The Artists in Residence program is the program that brings valuable cultural experiences into Alberta schools.  Some of the artists  school communities may have hired as part of this program are Trickster Theatre, Les Bucherons and Theatre Prospero.  Rural school boards and aboriginal communities are most at risk for losing cultural opportunities since they don’t have the same number of cultural programs as those of us in the metro regions.  In solidarity with these and our own school communities, I ask that you support the following request:  In the 2017 budget, the government of Alberta reversed the AFA cuts from the previous year and so I am requesting that you join with me in asking the Minister of Culture, Ricardo Miranda and the members of the AFA Board, to have the AFA reverse the 50% cut to the Artists in Residence program.  Three ways you could make this request is by:

  1. personally signing the following petition here, and/or
  2. writing to the AFA Executive Director Paul Pearson at Paul.pearson@gov.ab.ca and to Minister Miranda at culturetourism.minister@gov.ab.ca to let them know that you know the government reversed the AFA cuts and to ask that the 50% cut to funding of the Artists in Residence program be reversed.
  3. sharing the petition link and the email links with friends, teachers, parent councils and anyone else you believe would be interested in supporting the Artist in Residence program.

The Alberta School Boards Association supported this program by writing to Minister Miranda last school year to ask the AFA to reverse their 50% cut and by passing a policy resolution at the Fall 2016 AGM that supports arts programs in schools.  Please take a few moments to ensure the funding for this crucial arts program is reinstated.  Time is of the essence because the AFA will be making budget allocations in the next 2 weeks to their various programs.  Please write your emails asap and before May 1.  Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

ECSD Trustee Patricia Grell, Ward 71

Apology and a Reflection

I would like to wholeheartedly and unreservedly apologize to our ECSD Legal Counsel Carole Karbonik for the disrespectful remark that I made at our Public Board meeting held March 21st, 2017. Carole is a professional who is following orders, like any other district employee, and she deserves to be respected at a public board meeting and it is the Superintendent and the board who should be held accountable, not our staff. I’ve blogged before about how I believe she is put in a terribly awkward position in her role by our organizational chart  and I should have been mindful of this when I made my remarks. My issue is with our process, not with her and I regret my remark.

 

I intend to apologize to Ms. Karbonik at the next public board meeting and I regret that I was not contacted by Janet French to apologize after the meeting before her article came out.

I’ve been praying for our Superintendent, and our Board of Trustees and asking for guidance on how we can move forward in a way that models the love of Christ. There are so many committed and wonderful staff in our district who need strong leadership from the board that is honest, transparent, inclusive, democratic, and courageous.

The tensions at the board table have been taking a great toll on me and I increasingly am doubting whether or not I should seek another term. I was frustrated like Trustees Acheson and Bergstra (https://marilynbergstra.wordpress.com/2017/03/22/new-world-order/) where certain trustees on the board have been using Roberts Rules to shut down debate before it even starts. I find this action anti-democratic and denies our constituents the opportunity to hear an issue, regardless of the decision. Why do we even have school boards then?

I believe that this all goes back to my advocacy for our sexual and gender minority students, staff and families. In February one of my colleagues took such an issue with my protection of LGBTQ rights that they threatened me in an email with sanction and alluded to my removal. Because much of the bullying I have experienced happens behind closed doors (as with so much of our business sadly) if I were to reveal more I would be censured, but I think the email below, much like the letters attempting to silence Dr. Wells, speaks for itself. My colleagues may be politically astute enough to know the political dangers of censoring me for supporting gay marriage on my personal twitter account and how that sort of overt attack on human rights could call the entirety of publicly funded catholic education into question.

I’m praying for strength and patience. I just want to get back to talking about education matters and how we can discuss important issues like collaborating with community partners, getting new school spaces, and saving money in this tough budget climate. (https://grellblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/27/cooperation-is-the-foundation-of-the-future-of-catholic-education-in-alberta/)

Whether I seek re-election or not, I remain dedicated to standing up for social justice in Christ’s example and loving my gay and lesbian neighbours as myself. I am willing to leave other matters such as the superintendents contract or getting to the bottom of why the ACSTA and catholic superintendents are targeting an Academic at the U of A but I will never be silent when it comes to human rights and equal marriage and the love that we must model for our most vulnerable youth. My faith demands nothing less of me.

Here is an email that I received from one of my colleagues February 19th:

From: XXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sent: Sunday, February 19, 2017 7:28 PM

To: Grell, Patricia <Patricia.Grell@ecsd.net>

Subject: Retweet of support of gay marriage

 

Dear Trustee Grell,

As per our Organizational Bylaw 13.2(a) this is to notify you of “first contact.”   This pertains to the retweet of your support of gay marriage as attached.

It is my intent to bring this to the attention of the Board  Chair as per Organizational Bylaw  13.2(b) that you are in violation of duties as a Catholic School Trustee (public representative of the Catholic Church) as you are  openly defying teachings of The Catholic Church regarding gay marriage.  Therefore I will be asking the Chair to start the sanction and censure process.

Patricia, it goes without saying, that I am most disappointed in you.  I wish you would keep your personal opinions to yourself until you step down as Catholic school trustee or are removed as a Catholic school trustee.  

I am open to discussing this with you.

Sincerely,

Trustee XXXXXXXXXXXX

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS OFFER CATHOLIC PROGRAMMING?

Go to Alberta Counsel Newsletter Issue 28_5 for a discussion of EPSB Trustee Michael Janz’s suggestion that public schools offer Catholic alternative programming.  I wrote the piece in collaboration with my co-worker at Alberta Counsel Ed Picard. Happy reading!

March 21, 2017 Public Board Meeting and ACSTA Transparency Motion

I have just learned that the agenda for the Tuesday, March 21, 2017 public board meeting was not posted on the ECSD website on Friday, March 17, 2017 and still is not posted.  Usually the practice is for the Board Secretary to post the agenda on the Friday before the Tuesday Board meeting to give the public and the media some idea of what the Board plans to discuss.

I have also just discovered that my motion requesting more transparency from ACSTA has been designated as an in camera item.  I am unsure why — the Chair has not contacted me to inform me of this and Trustee Bergstra, Vice Chair of the Board told me this afternoon that she was unaware of any concerns with my motion.  It is rather ironic that a motion dealing with transparency is being dealt with as an in camera item. I will be addressing these issues at the Tuesday public board meeting.

Here is the link to the copy of my motion as I found it in my Board package:  ACSTA Transparency