TORONTO - Some school boards seem to be losing their bearings. On December 7, the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) trustees will meet to choose a new Chair and Vice Chair for the Board and its Committees to lead them into the final year of the Board’s mandate before the 2022 election. Patrick Murphy and Marvin Duarte are the incumbents in the two senior positions.
The past three years have been challenging for the Board on several fronts. Board meetings have been characterized by factional divides and “dysfunctionality”. Board meetings are frequently incomplete and additional meetings are required, on an ad hoc or urgent basis. Outside “investigators” have pointed to these factors as root causes of the Board’s inability to conduct business effectively.
Many parents and ratepayers have expressed concern about their children’s learning environment and the future of the Catholic education system. Calls and emails from thee Corriere to the Director and the Chair go unanswered.
Now, to develop a better learning environment, where students can “achieve, believe and belong”, the HCDSB has set in motion a process for administering a board-wide census to all students in February 2022. It has left some people wondering why. Its stated purpose is to gather demographic data on race, ethnicity, religion, Indigenous identity, and disability - all to gauge the diversity of the student population. It’s a Catholic Board say some parents, underscoring the obvious.
Moreover, the Board invites all students to participate in the Census on a voluntary basis. The parents and guardians of students Kindergarten through to grade 8 will be responsible to fill out the survey. And, if they do not? Students in grades 9 through 12 will complete the Census during class time. They are minors.
The idea of the student census does not sit well with everyone. The HCDSB maintains that the information gathered will help every student in the system as the Board aims to create a more equitable and inclusive learning environment. Parents and students have legitimate concerns over issues like the privacy of personal identity, the protection of information collected and stigmatization based on data provided.
They are skeptical as to why the census needs to ask questions about socio-economic status, gender identity and sexual orientation. Is it reasonable to ask minors to specify their individual understanding of their gender or to whom they are attracted to romantically, emotionally or in intimacy?
Parents who have contacted the Corriere ask how anyone can ascertain whether all individuals who partake in the Census fully understand the language used, or whether respondents possess the maturity to comprehend what is being asked of them. This is especially true for students who will complete the Census during class, they say, “what are the qualifications of those in the classroom assisting them on questions that pertain to their socio-economic status, gender identity or sexual orientation”? What will they do with the information?
From an outsider’s view, it looks like an accident waiting to happen. Can minors legally consent to the Census, who vouches that the information provided is accurate. Perhaps more parent involvement is required. At the very least, some form of parental/guardian consent which permits their children to complete the questionnaire on their own should be discussed.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter