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York Catholic school board defers motion to restrict flags flown at schools

A view of the York Catholic District School Board meeting in May 2023 where the board voted on raising the Progress Pride flag. Trustees voted no. (CBC - image credit)
A view of the York Catholic District School Board meeting in May 2023 where the board voted on raising the Progress Pride flag. Trustees voted no. (CBC - image credit)

The York Catholic District School Board has decided further study is needed before it considers a trustee motion causing anxiety among the LGBTQ community that would restrict which flags can be flown on school property.

The motion, by trustee Frank Alexander, proposes to make two amendments to the board's policy on the display of flags on board premises. If adopted, the motion would limit flags flown at YCDSB schools, both outside and inside, to ones representing Canada, Ontario, the municipality, the Vatican and the school. It would also eliminate the board's ability to approve flags from other organizations.

At its Tuesday evening meeting, the board sent the motion to its policy review committee for further discussion. The move means the board would not vote on the motion on Tuesday.

"It requires some tweaking," Alexander told the meeting.

In the motion, Alexander wrote, "The York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) has been fraught with disunity over the flying of flags."

Alexander did not respond to a request by CBC Toronto for comment.

The motion came after the board voted last year not to fly the Pride Progress flag outside its Catholic Education Centre, following months of clashes between advocates and critics over the issue.

LGBTQIA2+ group calls motion 'faith-based colonialism'

Tristan Coolman, president of Pflag Canada York Region, a LGBTQIA2+ volunteer-led support, education and resource network, said in a letter to the board that the amendments in the motion could be viewed as an act of "faith-based colonialism," which the letter says have traditionally harmed marginalized communities.

"It is our position that these amendments work to restrict free speech, visibility, and celebration of many minority groups within the YCDSB. This homogenous approach to community building sanitizes the visibility of some minority groups in your student population, educators, and administrators," Coolman wrote in the letter.

The letter says one of the amendments would remove the board's flexibility to consider recognizing diverse groups with flags that celebrate their causes or lived experiences.

"The addition of a section restricting the visibility of those flags inside a school would have the same impact," Coolman wrote.

In an interview on Tuesday, Coolman said the amendments in the motion would also prevent flags that promote truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples from being flown at the board. That's despite the "Every Child Matters" flag being previously flown at York Catholic schools.

Student Erika Cordeiro holds a Pride flag outside of St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Vaughan, Ont., where students walked off of school grounds to protest the York Catholic District School Board's decision not to fly the flag.
Student Erika Cordeiro holds a Pride flag outside of St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Vaughan, Ont., where students walked off of school grounds to protest the York Catholic District School Board's decision not to fly the flag.

Student Erika Cordeiro holds a Pride flag outside of St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Vaughan, Ont., where students walked off school grounds to protest the York Catholic District School Board's decision in May 2023 not to fly the flag. (Tyler Cheese/CBC)

Coolman said the group is concerned that the amendments would limit any future requests by groups to fly the Pride flag at YCDSB schools.

"To talk about our different lived experience was a strength of Canadians and a strength of this country and something that could bring us together — not separate us," Coolman said. 

Other groups say flying different flags at schools shows diversity.

Motion threatening identities, student leader says

Michael Olechny, a co-leader of Students for Change, a student group, said the motion proposes "discrimination as an option" and should not have been raised in the first place.

"What we're seeing is a repeat of last year. It's very frustrating because our existence, our identities are being threatened," Olechny said.

He said the motion showed who the board values in its schools because it would have excluded flags from different countries.

"All of those students that feel represented by those flags are losing that connection to their identity within school," he said.

Christina Cody, a former York Catholic District School Board student, said the motion is an example of the "thinly veiled homophobia" prevalent at Catholic boards.

Cody, also director and founder of the Alumni to Amend Section 93 — a group founded by former Catholic school students that would like to see the end of public funding to Catholic schools in Ontario — said the motion would essentially be a ban on the Pride flag.

"It's very undemocratic. You're taking away the ability of elected education trustees, now or in the future, to be able to determine what flags are flown in order to support certain student groups or certain movements that their students respond to," she said.