The anti-abortion message her schoolmates wore inspired Alexandria Szeglet to don her opinion too. Instead of the word “life” written along strips of red tape, the 15-year-old Thunder Bay resident wore the word “choice” written on strips of green tape stuck to her Catholic high school uniform.
She was minutes into her first-period drama class last Thursday at St. Patrick High School when she was called to the office and sent home.
Alexandria left, but the soft-spoken Grade 10 student had started a movement: In a show of solidarity, 24 of her peers followed suit, adhering green tape to their uniforms. Four of them were also sent home, some for a two-day suspension.
The suspensions, and the faith-fuelled debate behind them, are the latest evidence of growing friction between religion and public education in Canada.
Catholic schools are struggling to bridge a growing divide between popular opinion and church doctrine, and the strain is showing: A Catholic school board near Toronto won international notoriety in January after it banned gay-straight alliances, and a bedroom community near Edmonton, where Catholic education is the only public option, is currently embroiled in a battle for residents’ right to a doctrine-free education.
The increasing challenges facing Catholic educators have nothing to do with recent events at St. Patrick High School, according to John De Faveri, director of education with the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board.
“It wasn’t anything about what the students were trying to say; it was the inappropriate way they went about it,” he said. “They didn’t get approval from the school. They didn’t do anything of the sort.”
The students who wore an anti-abortion message were allowed to remain at school because their event had been approved by the school’s administration. The stickers were part of an annual Day of Silent Solidarity in which students take a vow of silence in order to raise money for an anti-abortion student group.
The students who wore a pro-choice message hadn’t asked for permission and some swore or were belligerent to teachers, Mr. De Faveri said.
“My opinion is that if they don’t want to allow both sides to express their opinion, they shouldn’t allow either one of them,” said Ann Szeglet, Alexandria’s mother.
Though the Vatican has taken a clear stand against abortion, the faith’s followers are more divided and there are a number of Catholic pro-choice groups.
“I felt like I shouldn’t have to be silent,” Alexandria said.