Media: Celebrating Publicly Funded Catholic Schools

Publicly-funded Catholic schools are cause to celebrate

OPINION May 01, 2018 by Patrick J. Daly Hamilton Spectator

I am writing in response to an April 21, 2018 article in which the writer recommends a seriously damaging move to monopolize the education of our children. I do so as well to correct a number of myths or obvious inaccurate statements.

It is unfortunate that in a lack of commitment to transparency, the writer fails to acknowledge his many years of involvement in the public schools teacher’s union, whose long-standing goal has been to create such a monopoly in education there by increasing their membership and decreasing accountability.

Publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario are cause for celebration and one of the four pillars upon which the outstanding structure of education in our province has been built. For well over 150 years, the distinct missions of each of the systems and the choice provided to parents within this structure, has led to Ontario being recognized as one of the best places for education in the world.

The writer fails to recognize the high level of diversity that thrives and excels within the halls and classrooms of Ontario’s Catholic schools. Like our public school counterparts, Catholic school boards fully comply with all regulations and requirements of the Education Act. Rather than actively recruit non-Catholic students subject to their locally developed student admission policies and the availability of space, Catholic School Boards have responded to the hopes and desires of parents of the over 550,000 young people who attend their schools. For a number of reasons including their commitment to faith formation and academic/co-curriculum excellence, these parents choose to enrol their children in our schools.

The percentage (proportion) of non-Catholic elementary students enrolled in the schools of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board has remained consistent and unchanged for a number of years. The writer knows that fluctuations in a school board’s enrolment is related to a number of factors most significantly community demographics. The percentages he cites of decline in one board and increase in another, is in no way impacted by the number of or percentage of non-Catholic students attending Catholic elementary schools.

Rather than “not something the separate system wants people to know about”, Catholic School Boards and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) on their behalf, proudly celebrate their high student retention rates. The OCSTA sought legal advice and shared information with member boards so as to assist them in more effectively and efficiently responding to Freedom of Information Requests rather than “in an attempt to keep information private”. The reference to being “cautious and discrete” came from the minutes of an OCSTA meeting and not a memo from a Catholic School Board. The statement was made out of our understanding that policies with regard to student admissions vary and are a local school board matter.

The most egregious statement in the article is reference to “presents a ripe opportunity to select ‘strong’ candidates and reject those who may have learning disabilities or behavioural issues”. This is wrong, unfounded and hurtful. Catholic School Boards across Ontario have been rightly recognized as leaders in inclusive education. I am proud to be part of a Catholic school system who for over four decades has been both committed to and guided by a philosophy of “Each Belongs”. Flowing from our Catholic Christian vision of every child created in the image of our loving God, all young people are welcome (together with their brothers and sisters) into their neighbourhood schools.

In response to his question, “How do non-Catholic students fit in the immersive religious environment”, I invite the reader to visit any Catholic School or ask the parents, “how their children are fitting in”.

Like their public school supporter neighbours, Catholic school taxpayers and parents know through past experience, that rather than save money school board amalgamation (similar to municipal amalgamation) has increased costs significantly. They know as well that a move to one school system would cause massive disruptions and chaos, negatively impact quality and significantly reduce choice.

The four school systems in Ontario work well together out of a shared commitment to the cognitive, social, physical and spiritual well-being of the students entrusted to their care. This spirit of co-operation and the structure of publicly funded education in Ontario are to be strengthened and celebrated.

Patrick J. Daly is Chair, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board and, President, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association