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Update: Bergstra 'disappointed' after Edmonton Catholic School Board removes her as vice chair

The move comes after months of disagreement about everything from sex education to religion class.

Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee Marilyn Bergstra.

Kevin Maimann / Metro Order this photo

Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee Marilyn Bergstra.

The Edmonton Catholic School Board removed Trustee Marilyn Bergstra from her vice chair position in a surprise vote Monday.

Board Chair Laura Thibert said the move was a response to Bergstra's recent comments suggesting religion classes should not be necessary for high school graduation.

Bergstra said she was caught off guard by the move.

“My colleagues are entitled to their opinion. Obviously I was very disappointed in it. I don’t think their opinion reflects who I am, what I’m about,” she said.

The board also voted to remove Bergstra as its representative to the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) and condemned unspecified recent comments by Trustee Patricia Grell, who was absent for the meeting.

Bergstra, who had recently called for more comprehensive sex education, has disagreed with other trustees on numerous issues since taking the vice chair position in October 2016. She previously served as chair and was first elected to the board in 2007.

Last week, she said high school students should not necessarily be excluded from grad commencement if they haven’t completed their nine religion credits, citing barriers faced by students in specific circumstances.

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She said her focus has been on positive health outcomes for students and she does not feel anything she's done on the board has been "anti-Catholic."

“Politics isn’t about sitting on a fence. And I don’t respect politicians that do that. I guess I’m known to take positions, and given the fact that I take positions, I think that makes me a strong leader,” Bergstra said.

“At least it shows my constituents where I stand and that I’m prepared to take even the toughest issues forward. So if that doesn’t make me a good vice chair, I don’t know what else I should be doing.”

Trustee Larry Kowalczyk introduced the motion to have her removed as vice chair, saying her comments have given the board an “ugly name.” Trustee Debbie Engel then added the motion to remove Bergstra as ASBA representative.

Bergstra said Monday’s vote will not stop her from bringing motions forward in the future.

District spokesperson Lori Nagy said she cannot recall anyone ever being removed from the chair or vice chair position before.

“It’s huge. It’s the most a board can do,” Nagy said.

Thibert said she hopes the move puts an end to the board’s controversies and “stops some of the questions that have been arising from our Catholic community.”

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