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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

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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

Motion: ACSTA Consultation Process

I was going to bring forward a motion to the March 21, 2017 ECSD Public Board however I received some clarifications to my questions from ACSTA President Adriana LaGrange which you can find in italics next to the questions posed.  I will however be bringing forward the following updated motion based upon the answers I received from President LaGrange:

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association is an association comprising of democratically elected trustees from across Alberta, the Yukon and the NWT. It is an Association which is funded by membership fees from 24 Boards: 18 Alberta Catholic Boards, 4 Alberta Francophone Boards, 1 Yukon and 1 NWT. Edmonton Catholic School District paid $154,801.66 in membership fees to ACSTA in 2016 and will be paying $164,023.21 in membership fees in 2017. In 2017, the ACSTA will receive a total of $786,246.32 in membership fees to operate — all of which will come from per student education grants from provincial and territorial governments funded by tax payers.

Given that the ACSTA is a tax payer funded organization that represents 24 Boards and over 100 trustees, I was very concerned to read then, in a March 10, 2017 edition of the Edmonton Journal that the ACSTA wrote a letter of complaint on September 16, 2017 against Dr. Kris Wells of iSMS to the Douglas R. Stollery, Chancellor of the Senate, University of Alberta.  I was concerned and surprised because this was the first time I heard of any issue from the ACSTA with Dr. Wells’ comments.   I was also concerned because I had no opportunity as a democratically elected trustee to speak to the issue.  Had I been able to, I could have offered some insights into it and prevented what has now become a media storm.

As I made inquiries with our Board of Directors representative on the ACSTA, Larry Kowalczyk, I learned that he failed to inform our Board of the issue between September 9, 2016 and March 10, 2017 when the information was released to the public.  He apologized for this oversight and I have accepted it.

I learned from a highly constructive conversation with President Adriana LaGrange that after coming out of camera on September 9, 2016, the ACSTA Board of Directors neglected to list the action item of writing to various representatives at the U of A.  This is the usual practice for Boards – no decisions are made in camera, only discussions occur in camera.  I believe it is important for our Board to remind the ACSTA that in the interest of transparency, action items should be listed after coming out of in camera discussions.  (If you go to the September 9, 2016 minutes you will note that another in camera discussion item that led to an action was listed however the one to write the letters to the U of A was not).

I believe that some clarification is also necessary on the part of the ACSTA to remind their Board of Directors that the Bourinot Rules of Order allow for in camera discussions to be shared with their Boards.  President Adriana LaGrange assured me that this was the case with the Bourinot Rules of Order.

I also learned that any additional documents in the Board of Directors’ packages are attached to their agendas not to their ratified minutes.  I believe that any documents referred to in the ratified online minutes should be attached to them so trustees and the public can better understand what is being discussed.  In the November 18, 2016 minutes, there is a motion made by Ron Schreiber to request that ACSTA respond to the October 28, 2016, letter from University of Alberta President, David Turpin.  The letter that sent to President Turpin and the letter back from him are not attached to the minutes making it very difficult to understand what Trustee Schreiber is referring to.

I would also suggest that when the ACSTA makes mention of an issue in their minutes, they do so in a more transparent fashion to allow trustees and the public to understand clearly what is being addressed.  For example, the letter to and from President Turpin as referred to in the November 18, 2016 minutes could have referred to inviting him to an ACSTA event.

So in the interest of transparency, I request the following:

That the ECSD Board of Trustees write a letter by April 21, 2016 to the ACSTA and request that in the interest of transparency they make the following changes in their governance process:

  1. When the Board of Directors meets to deal with an in camera item, that that in camera item be brought back from the Board Director to their respective Boards for discussion and input
  2. when the Board of Directors meets in camera, they are permitted by the Bourinot Rules of  Order to share their discussion with their Boards
  3. when the Board of Directors meets in camera, that when they come out of camera, they list their action items in their minutes
  4. when the Board of Directors makes reference to  any documents in their minutes, that they attach those documents to their ratified minutes
  5. when the Board of Directors makes reference to an issue in their minutes, that they do so in a manner such that trustee members and the public can understand what is being referred to
  6. that the ACSTA President and Vice President speak to their Board of Directors and remind them that they are representatives of their respective Boards and therefore have a duty to inform their Boards of ACSTA conversations, legal expenditures, legal actions, activities, concerns, etc.

 

 

Previous Motion for March 21, 2017 (please see answers to my questions in italics)

To: Board of Trustees

From: Patricia Grell, Trustee

Re: ACSTA Consultation Process

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association is an association comprising of democratically elected trustees from across Alberta, the Yukon and the NWT. It is an Association which is funded by membership fees from 24 Boards: 18 Alberta Catholic Boards, 4 Alberta Francophone Boards, 1 Yukon and 1 NWT. Edmonton Catholic School District paid $154,801.66 in membership fees to ACSTA in 2016 and will be paying $164,023.21 in membership fees in 2017. In 2017, the ACSTA will receive a total of $786,246.32 in membership fees to operate — all of which will come from per student education grants from provincial and territorial governments funded by tax payers.

I was very concerned to read then, in a March 10, 2017 edition of the Edmonton Journal that the ACSTA wrote a letter of complaint on September 16, 2017 against Dr. Kris Wells of iSMS to the Douglas R. Stollery, Chancellor of the Senate, University of Alberta.  I was concerned and surprised because this was the first time I heard of any issue from the ACSTA with Dr. Wells’ comments.   had never heard  claiming to speak on behalf of ACSTA and “the member school boards we represent”.   As a democratically elected trustee on a Board that is a paying member in good standing with ACSTA, I am concerned that this letter was sent out without any consultation and deliberation from ACSTA’s member Boards’ representatives. The ECSD representative on the ACSTA Board of Directors is Trustee Larry Kowalczy.  He told me today that he first learned of the letter at a Board of Directors’ meeting during the November 18 – 20, 2016 ACSTA AGM.  He attempted to speak to the letter at an ECSD Governance and Priorities meeting after the AGM however the Board ran out of time, the item not mentioned and then got missed on future Board agendas.  It is unfortunate that no Catholic trustee at least was cced on it. Nor was information about this letter raised to the general membership at the November 2016 ACSTA AGM.

Because we as trustees are democratically elected and our Catholic Association is tax payer funded, I move the following:

That the ECSD Board request by April 21, 2017 that the ACSTA Chair, Vice Chair and Board of Directors answer the following questions:

  1. Who made the decision to send this letter of complaint against Dr. Wells? The Board of Directors which met on September 9, 2016.  Please go to the minutes of this meeting here.
  2. What role did the Edmonton Archdiocese and/or Alberta bishops play in sending this letter? The Archdiocese did not play a role in raising the issue over Dr. Wells.  The Council of Catholic Superintendents of Alberta communicated to ACSTA President LaGrange that they were going to write a letter to the U of A regarding Dr. Wells and wanted ACSTA to do the same.  
  3. Why did President Adriana LaGrange write that she was representing the ACSTA member school boards when none of the Boards representatives were consulted? The Board Directors were consulted at a  Sept. 9, 2016 meeting and together they made a decision to write a letter to the Chancellor.  They neglected to put their action item in their September 9, 2016 minutes after they came out of camera even though another action item was listed.  
  4. Why did the ACSTA not raise their concerns regarding Dr. Wells or inform their membership of their complaint letter at the November 2016 AGM? The minutes were distributed at their November 18, 2016 Board of Directors’ meeting with the letters sent to the U of A attached to their agendas.  These letters unfortunately were not attached to the ratified online minutes of Sept. 9 or Nov. 18, 2016 to ensure trustees understood the actions the ACSTA were taking.  The ACSTA did not raise the issue at the November AGM because they believed that their Board of Directors was taking the information back to their respective Boards and sharing it.  This was not the case with our Board of Director Larry Kowalczyk.  He did not share any of this information until I phoned him after reading the March 10, 2017 story in the Edmonton Journal.  I have met another trustee on a Catholic Board who stated that their Board Representative also failed to share this information with them.  I am unsure how many other Catholic trustees experienced the same lack of communication from their Board of Directors representative.
  5. Why did the ACSTA choose not to use the resolution mechanism available to it to ensure that the letter truly reflected support from the “member boards”? The ACSTA Board of Directors wished to move quickly on addressing their issues with Dr. Wells.  Using a resolution mechanism would have delayed their action of writing the letter to the U of A.  The ACSTA could have asked their Board of Directors representatives to go back to their respective Boards to inform and consult them to see what action the trustees wished them to take on such a serious public issue.  Had they taken the time to do this, trustees would have been informed of the actions ACSTA wished to take and could have offered their input.  The ACSTA’s decision to act quickly and without proper consultation with trustees has led to a media storm.