ANDREA HOUSTON – Leanne Iskander was surprised to learn that her former principal – who first denied her a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at her Mississauga Catholic school in March – may soon be the subject of an investigation by Ontario’s College of Teachers.
“This is really interesting,” Iskander says. “I didn’t know this complaint was happening. Can students make complaints to the [Ontario College of Teachers]? Is this investigating the [Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School] Board as well? It was the board that told her not to allow a GSA.”
Frances Jacques used to be the principal of St Joseph Catholic Secondary School. She is now retired but is still a member of the teachers’ college and may have “put certain groups at increased risk, which is contrary to the code of conduct of members,” the Toronto Star reported on Jan 29.
A Montreal teacher, Thomas, McCue, decided in November to ask the college to investigate the alleged “actions or inactions” of Jacques last year after reading troubling reports that queer students have been repeatedly denied supports, like GSAs.
McCue might have been referring to incidents such as the time, on March 25, Jacques hijacked a meeting and tried to convince students they didn’t actually want a GSA.
At the time Iskander described the meeting as tense. “She just started talking. Then she drew an umbrella on the blackboard with different social justice causes underneath, like people with disabilities, racism, an umbrella group with focus groups.”
McCue tells the Star he was shocked by the way the students were treated. “I kind of felt sick to my stomach,” he said, after reading that St Joseph students had been denied, especially after they were brave enough to ask for — and then publicly fight for — a gay-straight alliance at such a young age.
“It’s clear in Ontario College of Teacher regulations that you can’t put students at increased risk,” McCue said.
“McCue’s complaint also asks the college to examine if Jacques failed to maintain the standards of the profession, because without a gay-straight alliance support group ‘to address issues of bullying, some students may feel that their emotional well-being was being compromised,’” the Star reports.
The college has 120 days to investigate and determine whether to proceed to a disciplinary hearing.
Meanwhile, a line has been drawn in the sand at the provincial level.
New Catholic “anti-bullying guidelines” released Jan 26 by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association (OCSTA) attempt to rename GSAs "Respecting Difference” groups. The name is already being rejected by students.
"Respecting everyone at school is a given,” Iskander says. “This is about acceptance.”
The day after the guidelines were released, Education Minister Laurel Broten repeated her government’s position, pledging that “if students want a GSA it must be provided.” She vows to listen to students as Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, moves toward second reading in the Ontario legislature.