Peterborough’s Catholic schools won’t fly Pride flag in June after narrow vote

A vote by Peterborough’s Catholic school board against allowing the Pride flag to be raised at its schools has stirred up anger and disappointment among members of the community.

School board trustees voted 4-3 against the motion Tuesday night.

In a statement released after the vote, David Bernier said the feedback he has received from the community about the Pride flag is the most on an issue that he has ever seen in 15 years as a trustee with the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board.

“We know that some within our community may not understand or may be disappointed with the outcome of our deliberation. Trustees voted with their conscience on this matter,” Bernier said.

When Jewel McDonald, whose child attends a school run by the board, heard the decision she says she was “shocked, especially with the large organizations in Toronto and Durham making the right call and flying the flag.”

“These are their formative years,” she said. “If they are in the one place that doesn’t support them, what does that say to them?”

McDonald has since started a petition asking the board to reverse its decision. Since its posting, over 3,700 have signed.

In a statement sent out to board staff, Joan Carragher, the director of education, said that the board is committed to supporting LGBTQS2+ students. 

“We must now work even harder to ensure all of our students, especially our most vulnerable students, feel our love and know that they belong in our school communities,” Carragher said. 

McDonald says that fortunately the teachers on the ground at the schools provide excellent support for the LGBTQS2+ community, but that the leadership at the board level needs to make firmer, public shows of support.

“It feels to me that they talk about the support that they show the students but they do it quietly, they don’t do it loudly, and it’s not enough,” she says.

Conversations about the Pride flag have been happening across Catholic school boards over the past couple of months leading up to Pride month. The Toronto Catholic District School Board as well as school boards in Niagara, Durham and Ottawa all recently decided to raise the Pride flag for the first time.

But some Catholic school boards have continued to resist calls for Pride flags to be raised including Windsor-Essex and Hamilton Catholic district school boards.

When CBC News asked Peterborough’s Catholic school board asking if it would be doing anything to mark Pride month, its communications manager Galen Eagle said, “Given that we’re in the last days of June and this school year, this is a conversation that will continue into the next year.”

Meanwhile, McDonald says the vote to fly the Pride flag should have happened sooner than the last week of June. 

“I’m going to demand that they make this decision sooner next year because how convenient for them to do this in the last week of June,” she said.

In the meantime, she hopes to bring the petition to the board this year to urge them to reverse their decision.

“If it doesn’t change their minds, at least they will know that this was met with serious opposition and that the community that surrounds them doesn’t feel the same way,” McDonald said. “They are alone in this.”

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