By Joe Volpe
TORONTO – It is time to dust off your prayer book, if you are a Catholic school supporter in Toronto, and you are concerned about you child’s education or return to school strategies.
I sat through a “virtual meeting” of the TCDSB, July 16 (after having read the entire proposed Order Paper – 341 pages), and the last-minute Addendum (40 pages), until 2:40 am, July 17. I should have known better.
The antics of Trustee Maria Rizzo and her acolytes (Norman Di Pasquale, Markus De Domenico, and Ida Li Preti) must be wearing thin even for the soon-to-be-retired Director, Rory McGuckin. The Ministry of Education, its Minister and the Cardinal will surely find them equally perplexing.
Here is a thumbnail update of the “urgent issues” the TCDSB needed to “get off the table” – still outstanding – before the restart (maybe) of the 2020-2021 school year. Keep in mind that the organization receives approximately $1.2 billion in Grants for Student Needs (GSN) plus an additional approximately 20% for “capital improvements”, annually. Some accountability might be in order.
Clearly, the consideration and approval of a Budget – how and on what to allocate resources – would have to be done, after [some] studied, contextual debate. Second, determination of which strategies proposed by the Minister (three options) for resuming implementable instructional models the TCDSB should adopt. Third, preparing and implementing plans for healthy, safe environments for students in the face of a second wave of the infectious covid-19.
Fourth, a transportation plan to get students to and from schools efficiently and free from such infections. Fifth, resolving a plethora of code of conduct and conflict of interest transgressions that are poisoning relationships among Trustees and creating a counter-productive making decision process. Sixth, and related to number five, resolve the question of “what is a Catholic ethic” and who is authorized to advocate on its behalf.
On this latter issue rides the question of whether the Catholic schools are a publicly funded, separate, system with Constitutional guarantees, or a public system with a purely secular “ethic” is front and center. Catholic ratepayers, who must prove their adherence to that “separate”, Catholic ethic – unless a Director’s letter exempts them – rightly expect that teachers and Trustees satisfy that basic requirement.
Apparently, at least one Trustee, along with at least one vocal teacher advocate of the LGBTQ2 movement, does not. The Integrity Commissioner recently hired to resolve the quagmire for Code of Conduct and Conflicts breaches generated in part by the actions of these two has yet to report publicly – as per the written wish of that teacher. It is merely a thought, but the Cardinal’s office may wish to provide some guidance before personal and institutional reputations go up in smoke.
It may all soon be moot. Almost immediately upon receiving the Order paper for the meeting (required, according to the by-laws, to be delivered to the Trustees and the public 72 hours prior to the start of the meeting), Trustee Rizzo generated an “advisory” to all schools and the parent councils in her Ward “encouraging” everyone to read and to “delegate”… in support of her proposed motion (unrevealed) that the Staff not implement anything until consideration and approval by the Board.
Classic – irresponsible – obstructionism. The Order Paper included all the first five items above, including an expenditure plan supported by thoroughly detailed data of monies per program and implications for expectations of teaching and support staff.
Her missive resulted in seven responses, four of them representing a Catholic School Parent Committee (CSPC), three representing themselves as individuals (one a former City Council candidate, another, a former TCDSB trustee ally of Rizzo). One of the CSPC delegators referenced having “surveyed” twenty parents in her high school (registered enrolment – 958).
Suffice it to say that, notwithstanding the quality of the presentations, they were not encumbered by third-party data. Their presentations focused entirely on “back to school” options. No Budgetary observations, no transportation issues, no code of conduct questions. They served their purpose: help Rizzo and company delay the start of the meeting and allow them to filibuster more easily, after Senior Staff completed their Reports – you know, on things like sanitation, instructional spaces, technology, human resources, special programs, compliance with Ministry directives and so on.
Fast forward to past midnight. Only one Trustee, Dan Di Giorgio, erstwhile ally, and enabler of Rizzo’s crew, asked a “semi-substantive” question on the matters at hand. At approximately 12:20 am, Di Pasquale proposed a motion in respect of the Reports that had been clearly written by the Opposition Caucus at Queen’s Park beforehand and designed to embarrass Minister Lecce.
Yet, all that was required was a motion “to refer” the Report back to Staff (done typically to authorize fine tuning before being brought back to Trustees for final acceptance; in this case July 23). The Motion contained so many “whereas” in its preamble that it sounded more like someone reading a book, to paraphrase Trustee Del Grande.
Not to be outdone by her puppet, Rizzo demanded to present and read an amendment to Di Pasquale’s amendment that outdid it in inanity, presumption, and obfuscation.
In sum, she demanded that no return to school plan be even considered until “every parent for every student at every school” was surveyed. The TCDSB claims to educate 91,000 students. The Administration indicated in its presentations that over 30,000 survey forms had been completed and returned.
For better or for worse, Italy – population 60 million, announced that every child, in every school will attend classes starting September 14. But this is Toronto. Rizzo wanted to defer decisions until the Board conducted talks with all three levels of government and with the Archdiocese regarding funding and physical accommodations for al special needs children and for the “black, indigenous and other minorities” who have suffered discrimination.
If you can stomach it, the next meeting is July 23. I am sending a Note to the Prime Minister, the Premier and the Mayor and the Cardinal to ensure that they attend …virtually.