This is a June unlike any other and I am quite certain that for you this has been a school year unlike any other. Students, I am writing to you today because I think there have been some significant issues of importance to you – and to all of us – and I wanted to openly address you on these events. I have had other opportunities to address staff on these topics, but now wish to speak directly to you. June is typically a month characterized by celebrations and many of those are tied to end of year or graduation celebrations. Those special moments have been taken from you and I want to acknowledge that there may be some disappointment in that, but I also know that our amazing staff have been going to great lengths to ensure that your end of year is still a memorable one. I congratulate all students for how you have adapted to our new mode of learning. You have been absolutely fabulous.
With that said – I also want to acknowledge that a number of you may be feeling hurt or upset and there could be a few different reasons for that. It could be COVID and its implications for you or your family. Just missing your daily interaction with your friends might have you feeling sad or lonely, or your concerns about next year might have you experiencing an elevated level of anxiety. We have supports for you and again our staff want to be here to support you, and I hope we have been. But I also want to acknowledge another topic which has been in the media a fair bit this past week.
I would like to address with you our attempt to fly a different flag to acknowledge Pride month. This gesture was a genuine response to student voices which were raised in protest last year, articulating a desire to see our Catholic schools fly the Pride flag. The flag was developed in collaboration with our other partners in Catholic education, not just here in Waterloo Catholic. However, the chosen image did provide a beautiful echo back to our Pastoral Plan image for “Called To Belong”, as well as the colours of the rainbow flag. It drew some inspiration from a student design from our Safe Spaces groups – although they did not have direct input into the flag itself. It was work and an initiative begun with great optimism, in the sure belief that we could communicate to all our staff, students and broader community our commitment to be inclusive and to nurture our students in the love of Christ. As your Director of Education, I have the rare privilege of visiting all of our elementary and secondary schools, and there is not one doubt in my mind that our schools are places of inclusion where all students are welcomed. I am very proud of our schools and the work we do to foster inclusion each and every day of the year.
The Pride flag has its origin in 1979 and each of the colours carries significance. As members of our Catholic school system you have been introduced to the love of Christ and his message of acceptance, peace and tolerance. Jesus always reached out to those whom society was rejecting. The message on the proposed flag read: We love because He loved us first. While the image on the proposed flag is consistent with our faith and gospel values, and most certainly was intended to send a message of welcome, some found it problematic that it was not the actual Pride flag. For that I apologize. It was a lesson for us on intent versus impact. We wished to send a positive and inclusive message, but it was not received that way by some. The ensuing debate last week was painful to many and hurt many of you. For that I sincerely apologize, as that is the opposite of what we had hoped for. I hope that you know that your teachers and all the staff at WCDSB are here for you if you need us.
Christ taught us the power of peace and of love, and His message and His model is one we should lean into at this time. Again – I hope that any student who is LGBQT2+ has always found a place of welcome in our schools, but we also commit to continue the dialogue and the work, as we can always be better. We love because He loved us first.
Dear students – I am writing because I am sorry if any of you have been hurt. Please know we celebrate you and all that you are. You are the reason we are here and we hope that as you think about your schools, about the activities that happen day in and day out, as you think about your teachers, your clubs and your school life, that you can reflect in your heart that Waterloo Catholic is a board where inclusion is fostered and where every day you are truly #CalledToBelong
For many years, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board has embraced the vision of Waterloo Region’s Catholic schools being “Heart of the community”, fostering “success for each” and creating “a place for all.”
To bring that vision to life, the WCDSB has prioritized equity, inclusion and belonging in the school board’s Multi-year Strategic Plan, as well as the board’s Pastoral Plan and Well-Being Plan.
As Catholics, we believe that we are wonderfully made in the image and likeness of a God who created us and loves us unconditionally – just as we are. We are called to love and celebrate one another, just as God loves and celebrates each one of us. We honour the inherent dignity in each other by treating one another with care, compassion, and respect.
The month of June is designated as Pride Month across the province of Ontario, and indeed much of Canada and the globe. This month, and each and every month, our Catholic schools are committed to nurturing safe and inclusive learning environments where every student and every member of the community is welcomed, valued, and respected.
We believe the message – “We are all wonderfully made – We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) captures a powerful message that we hope will resonate well in each of our school communities and across the broader Waterloo Region community.