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Guest Thinkers

Withdrawal: The Preferred Preventative Method of Angry Parents of Catholic School Children

Here is a quotable quote from an angry Coptic Orthodox priest in Toronto who this week has threatened to mobilize the removal of 5,000 children from the publicly-funded Catholic School Board: “We don’t want teachers talking about God creating Adam and Steve. It’s Adam and Eve.”

All this because the Toronto Catholic School Board is promising to mandate “a learning and working environment in which all individuals are treated with respect and dignity regardless of race, ancestry, place of origin, color, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, record of offenses, marital status, family status or disability.”

The school board is not going to be teaching the little Catholic children how to put on a dental dam or the mechanics of anal sex, all they want is an amendment to their equity laws to say that they will not tolerate homophobia in their schools.

And, it isn’t even really up to them. The school board has 90,000 students in the Greater Toronto Area and those who cut their almost one billion dollar cheque every year (i.e. the government of Ontario) have made it clear that they will no longer tolerate unequal treatment of students in the publicly-funded school system. Starting in September of this year any student who wants to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club in their school may do so without interference from the administration.

Why this is an interesting story to me is that an economic threat against a publicly-funded institution doesn’t make any sense. The school board should be asking: Are you going to stop using a service that you don’t pay for? And this concerns us how exactly?

If the threat of withdrawal is genuine, and 5,000 students fail to return to school next month, this will essentially cut the school board’s funding by $40 million dollars a year ($8,000 – $10,000 per student is contributed by the government). The board has 167 elementary schools and 31 secondary schools to maintain and 14,000 staff. The school buildings themselves are a fixed cost, for the most part, and will be difficult to close in the short run but staff are presumably easy to shed. In the long run schools can be closed. The board will have a smaller budget but will also be servicing a smaller community so in the long-run there will be no long run cost in terms of lost quality of education for the children in the school board.

Doesn’t sound like a crisis to me. In fact, the average Ontario tax payer should be pretty excited about this development since it will mean more money in the government coffers or, more realistically, less debt in these lean times.

Let’s look at the other side; what if demand for private Catholic education increases by 5,000 students in one month. Supply is fixed in the short-run, so the price of a private Catholic education will go through the roof, if a parent can even find it. Even at current prices it seems unlikely that this many children have parents, who have so far kept their children in a public school, that can afford to pay for private education. A casual look at private Catholic schools in Toronto shows their tuition runs at around $14,000 per year. After-all, education is expensive to provide.

Even if parents could afford to withdraw their children and pay for private education, will that education come with a guarantee that their new private school will tolerate homophobia? Because, let’s face it that is what these parents are asking for.

So even if loss of enrollment was a serious problem for the school board, it is unlikely that 100% of parents will withdraw their children as these churches have threatened.

Finally, I have to wonder how many of the parents of these children are right now looking at little Steve and thinking: Oh honey, you are just not going to survive high school without protection that includes sex-orientation.  There have to be a few of them, right?


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