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Maria Rizzo, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, speaks to the media at City Hall, in Toronto, in an April 24, 2019, file photo. Rizzo, who has supported including the terms, said schools must be safe places for all students.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Trustees at Canada’s largest Catholic school board have voted to include terms such as “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the board’s code of conduct after months of debate on whether there was a religious reason to exclude them.

The vote in the early hours of Friday followed delegations from the public to consider whether the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) should add the four terms – gender identity, gender expression, marital status and family status – to its list of prohibited grounds for discrimination.

The Toronto District School Board’s code of conduct already includes those terms.

Staff at the TCDSB appeared to have inadvertently omitted those terms when they updated the board’s policy to align with a revised provincial code.

Board chair Maria Rizzo, who has supported including the terms, said schools must be safe places for all students. "TCDSB students, families and staff deserve a board that sees them, includes them, loves and respects them regardless of differences,” she said Friday.

“We can now be proud of an inclusive policy that aligns with the law through a Catholic lens.”

The code of conduct is a document that sets standards of behaviour for students and staff. The Ontario government sent a memo last October to school boards asking them to review their codes and ensure they line up with the province’s revised one.

A handful of trustees were opposed to including the four terms, as were a number of delegates who were concerned that they were not compatible with the Catholic Church or its teachings.

However, a report from the Archdiocese of Toronto, delivered to the board late Thursday, supports changing the code of conduct to include the terms, in keeping with the ministry directive. The report says the changes will be supported as long as the “policy will be interpreted through the lens of the Catholic faith as articulated by the teachings of the Church and protected in legislation.”

Paolo De Buono, a teacher at the TCDSB, first brought the issue forward to the board in March when he noticed the omission. He said Friday that he wasn’t surprised the decision took so long: “I expected to find examples of what I see as a harmful difficulty, a stigma, in public Catholic education when talking about LGBTQ students and families.”

He added: “I am proud that this decision for inclusion has been made realizing that this is one step toward the deeper inclusion that must happen in communication and practice.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement Friday that he was pleased with the TCDSB’s decision.

“I have long believed that every child should see themselves reflected in their class, curriculum and school community. Today, we can say with confidence that they do,” he said.

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