Catholic trustees: they exist but
do they understand why?

di Priscilla Pajdo del December 14, 2021

TORONTO - Catholic school board trustees have a fiduciary duty to oversee the care of children whose parents entrust them to the publicly funded Catholic education system. It is a challenging job. Catholic ratepayers elect those trustees every four years with the expectation that the publicly elected board members protect, preserve and promote the Catholic education system.

It is their duty under the Law. The very same duty espoused in Catholic values that support faith formation.

This is the final year of the current mandate before the 2022 Municipal elections (October 24), when the public will have the opportunity to elect new leadership for their respective school boards. The months ahead will be crucial for board members to demonstrate their board’s direction and their obligation to deliver a curriculum in a faith-based education system, while supporting all students.

Last week, the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) elected a new Chair, Marvin Duarte, to carry out the role in the final year of their mandate. During his speech, he said he has a thorough understanding of his role as chair and views his new position as “beginning a new chapter” for the board.

Fellow trustee, Vincent Iantomasi, who was also nominated for the position (but did not win the majority of votes), also spoke to the role of the Chair and Director: “to ensure that Ministry legislation is followed through proper use of the procedural bylaws and governance policies, which are designed to treat everyone equitably”…[both] “the Chair and Secretary/Director should honour bylaws created to align with both our faith and legislation as it is imparted by the Ministry of Education”.

Mr. Iantomasi pointed out that the Education Act “recognizes Catholic education and gives it the legal power to write its governing policies and procedures to reflect Catholic Gospel Values which do not infringe on the rights of non-Catholics”.

Ultimately, Catholic schools have a right to exist under the denominational clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A similar view was expressed through a legal opinion commissioned by the HCDSB (and obtained by the Corriere) which stated, in part, that “legislation that interferes with such a right or privilege is unconstitutional (emphasis added)”.

Throughout the current term, the HCDSB trustees have experienced challenges in their mission to manage board business effectively. A recent investigation into conduct at board meetings described what they found as “dysfunction” and “factionalism” during its meetings. Concerned parents may argue that there appears to be a movement away from Catholic education.

This issue is not specific to just one school board. The movement seems to be infiltrating other Catholic boards across Ontario. Even the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) appears to be feeling the pressure. OCSTA’s mission is to promote and protect publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario.

Yet, on December 9, OCSTA issued a memorandum regarding the Intensive Program in Human Rights for School Board Leaders. The memo which discusses the additional training sessions for its members slated for sometime in the Spring of 2022, also stresses the importance that “Catholic trustees and others demonstrate a commitment to human rights and equity while respecting the denominational rights of Catholic school boards”. The implication is that Catholics do not have such a commitment.

That would come as a surprise to most Catholics. As trustee Iantomasi explains it, leaders in Catholic education must understand “the delicate balance of discernment, strength, conviction, resolve, humility, receptiveness and collaboration in the pursuit of how to be faithful to the gospel values”.

The OCSTA should hold seminars on that.

P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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