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Edmonton Catholic trustee won't run for re-election, cites 'interference and bullying'

Patricia Grell says she no longer supports the existence of free-standing Catholic schools in Alberta

Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee Patricia Grell.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee Patricia Grell.

An Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee who will not seek re-election says she no longer supports the existence of free-standing Catholic schools.

Patricia Grell wrote in a blog post Wednesday morning that she chose not to run this October due in part to “interference and bullying” by school administrators and the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

“From what I have seen over the last four years, I do not believe that Catholic schools are any better academically, socially or even spiritually than their public counterparts,” Grell wrote.

She said interference by administration and archdiocese in the board’s decision-making led to a board that was fearful of acting independently and was primarily in place to “rubber-stamp” decisions.

“So then what’s the point of having boards?” Grell said, speaking with Metro later Wednesday.

She said the archdiocese has been increasingly involved in the board’s day-to-day decision making, especially since issues have arisen around HPV vaccinations and bullying policies to protect LGBTQ students.

Grell said trustees caved to pressure from the archbishop in 2014 to not allow Gay-Straight Alliances in schools, and she said things got “ridiculous” the next year when church representatives stepped in to oppose letting a transgender student use the girl’s washroom.

“It is hard for me to stand by and watch them use our 100-per cent publicly funded Catholic schools to promote their hatred and bigotry,” Grell wrote in her blog.

On Sunday, the Catholic Bishops of Alberta and the Northwest Territories posted a set of guidelines for voters to consider in the upcoming election, urging them to make an “informed, moral choice.”

“They’re getting really ramped up. And now they’re getting involved in the election,” Grell said.

The archdiocese website ran a piece highlighting the guidelines, as well as a promotional profile on candidate Lisa Turchansky, who is running in Ward 76 against Marilyn Bergstra.

Bergstra has also had public disagreements with administration and has often sided with Grell as a socially progressive voice on the board.

Grell was reprimanded in March for saying Supt. Joan Carr’s $430,000 salary was excessive. Bergstra was removed as vice chair two months later after saying all students who have met the legal requirements to graduate Grade 12 should get to take part in commencement ceremonies, regardless of whether they completed all nine religion credits.

Bergstra said Wednesday that she chose to run again in October because “there’s so much that still needs to be done.”

Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee Marilyn Bergstra.

Kevin Maimann/Metro Edmonton File

Edmonton Catholic School Board Trustee Marilyn Bergstra.

She did say she has concerns about the board’s governance, and has written to Education Minister David Eggen to say the board needs more independence from administration.

“Tough calls are easier to make when you’re independent and at arm’s length to the organization,” Bergstra said.

“I would argue that if you don’t have independence, then even if they’re elected, they’re less democratic than an appointed board.”

Last year, a consultant hired by Alberta’s education ministry to review the board after several of its public meetings erupted into shouting matches, issued a scathing report that recommended it review all its policies.

Catholic board chair Laura Thibert issued a statement Wednesday saying she would not comment on Grell’s blog or statements.

“Moving forward, this is a time for all Catholic constituents to vote for a candidate who reflects their vision for Catholic education,” Thibert wrote.

Editor's note: The original version of this story stated that Trustee Marilyn Bergstra had said students should not require religion credits to graduate. It has been corrected to state that Bergstra said students should not require full religion credits to take part in commencement ceremonies. Edmonton Catholic's policy currently allows schools to bar a student from participating in the ceremonies if they have not completed all nine religion credits.

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