Two Edmonton Catholic School trustees were reprimanded by the chair for “speaking against Catholic values.” Marilyn Bergstra was also voted off as vice-chair.
She was also removed as a representative to the Alberta School Boards Association.
Trustees Bergstra and Patricia Grell were reminded about trustee conduct.
Chair Laura Thibert said the board does not condone their recent public statements, doesn’t agree with their position, and “blatant disrespect for the decisions made by the board.”
Reading from a prepared statement, Thibert said Bergstra and Grell’s actions are harming the Catholic community and Catholic education.
“The board values public debate and democratic decision-making, but feels that Trustee Bergstra and Trustee Grell have placed more value on their own personal agendas… The board wants our stakeholders to know that we will continue to vigorously advocate and protect Catholic education.
“We would like to reassure parents that your children’s education will remain rooted in Christ’s teachings and our actions guided by gospel values.”
Trustee Larry Kowalczyk pushed to have Bergstra removed as vice-chair and said he thinks she should resign.
“I’m not a bad person,” Bergstra said in response. “I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.
“I stand up for the students in this district.”
“I’m not opposed to religious education or religious classes being taught; I said perhaps there is a different way we can approach this,” Bergstra said. “I stand by those statements.”
Grell did not attend the special meeting held Monday morning.
Lori Nagy, a spokeswoman for the district, said this type of action is extremely rare. She doesn’t believe Edmonton Catholic Schools has ever removed a chair or vice-chair.
Bergstra previously started a debate about ending mandatory religion courses. Last week she said she won’t likely bring the motion back after it was voted off the agenda at a board meeting earlier in April. She said she brought the issue forward after hearing public requests to re-examine it.
Just last month, Bergstra put forward a motion to make changes to sexual education in Alberta schools. Bergstra wanted all publicly funded schools in Alberta to focus on sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy prevention, stating a message of abstinence-only doesn’t work. She also pushed for the inclusion of the concept of consent, and an approach that is more inclusive to LGBTQ students.
Her motion was voted down April 18.
Trustees also butted heads on discussing issues including allowing gay-straight alliances in any Alberta school in which a student requested one (mandated by the province), and its policy surrounding transgender students.
Last year, an independent report appointed by the education minister found Edmonton Catholic School Board trustees were confused about their governance role and “made it up” as they went along.
“Interpersonal conflict is evident among the board members and between trustees and the administration,” observer Donald Cummings wrote in his report.
“It affects every aspect of the current government style, is culturally embedded in the behaviours of the board and is largely [currently] intractable.”
After attending more than 40 meetings and doing interviews with both trustees and administrative staff, Cummings concluded the board required strong third-party mediation to remedy a number of problems.