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Open Letter to Catholic Constituents

May 6, 2017

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

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