On November 27, 1990, the Policy Committee of the Durham Separate School Board (DSSB) revoked an earlier motion of the full board making family life and religion programs compulsory for all students.

For more than a year, some parents in the region lying to the east of Toronto had fought a losing battle with the DSSB over a long-standing rule that no child was to be exempted from the Fully Alive family life program which includes a sex education component.  (see “Board scorns parents’ rights,” The Interim, July/August 1990)

Mrs. Jane Loder of Oshawa, Ontario and other parents claimed that natural law and Church teaching vindicated their right to reserve instruction in sexual and moral issues to themselves.  The DSSB, she argued, was obligated to abide by the parental decision to withdraw their children from the family life program.

Fred Sweeney, superintendent of education for the board, disagreed with this representation of Church teaching.  The undisputed right of parents to pull their children from classes exists only when no alternative education system exists; this is not the case in Ontario where a public system exists, Mr. Sweeney argued at the October 15, 1990 meeting of the board.

The majority of trustees saw it his way.  By a 13-5 vote, the board decided to pass the first reading of the compulsory attendance policy.  Behind then was the threat, made at the July 3 meeting of the board, to lay truancy charges against parents who unilaterally withdrew their children from the Fully Alive program (see “Board threatens truancy charges,” The Interim, October 1990).

Early in November 1990, doubting that the DSSB would ever allow her to remove her children from classroom sex ed, Mrs. Loder communicated with Bishop Robert Clune, asking him to intervene in the dispute.

Bishop Clune’s memo triggered an emergency, closed door meeting of the full board in late November, Mrs. Loder told The Interim.  The trustees decided not to frame an exemptions policy with regard to the family life program.  The Loders would be allowed to pull their children from the program, and in the future, other parents could do the same after making a formal request with the Director of Education.

The Interim made several attempts to confirm with Bishop Clune that he had arbitrated in the dispute, but calls to his office were not returned.

At the same secret meeting of the full board, and at the November 27, 1990 meeting of the Policy Committee, officials agreed to cover up news of the concession to parents.

“We haven’t made any commitment other than if a letter is received by the Director of Education requesting an exemption, the exemption will be granted,” Superintendent Fred Sweeney told The Interim.  There will be no public statement made that parents can withdraw their child from the [Fully Alive] program