‘I would never demand that’: Edmonton Catholic chair denies asking for trustee’s resignation

WATCH ABOVE: An Edmonton Catholic School Board trustee is feeling the heat after speaking out against a decision by the board. Eric Szeto explains.

EDMONTON — The chair of Edmonton Catholic Schools is fighting back after what she calls a lot of “misinformation on social media.”

Debbie Engel wanted to comment following reaction to a school board trustee’s blog post in which she expressed her support for a transgender student involved in a specific incident.

In the blog post, trustee Patricia Grell raised concerns with the board not allowing a seven-year-old girl to use the girls’ bathroom at school. Teachers have told her she must use the school’s gender-neutral bathroom.

The student should be allowed to use the girls’ bathroom because she identifies herself as a girl, Grell argued.

“What terrible thing is going to happen if she uses the washroom? I just feel we should have done this quietly. Let her use the washroom.”

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READ MORE: Local mother accuses Edmonton Catholic School Board of discrimination

The reaction and comments that followed that post upset Engel.

“I’m so disappointed that we have been painted as a district who doesn’t care or who is bigoted, because we are anything but.”

“To be Catholic is to value the dignity of the human person.”

Engel vehemently denied reports she wanted Grell to resign.

“Absolutely not. I think that was probably the most shocking thing I read on social media.

Engel said in the past, when a trustee separates themselves from the rest of the board on an issue, they usually resign shortly after.

“I simply said that was what I’m expecting because it truly was,” said Engel on Thursday.

“She has told you she is not resigning. I would never demand that and I’m very curious that anyone would think that of myself.”

READ MORE: Gender-neutral washrooms coming to more Edmonton schools 

The girl’s family came forward with their story last month, after becoming frustrated with the school board over what they feel are discriminatory policies towards their transgender daughter.

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“These children have many issues they have to overcome and choosing a washroom and being outed by the school shouldn’t be one of them,” said the girl’s mother.

The family has since filed a human rights complaint.

Engel admitted the student has been asked to use the gender-neutral washroom – not the girls’ washroom – but denied reports that the student has to be accompanied by someone to use it.

READ MORE: Majority of Alberta Catholics support gay-straight alliances: poll

Grell believes the Catholic School Board should be a leader in supporting transgender students.

“I just find as Catholics we should be the ones that are welcoming these kids,” explained Grell.

“We were brought kicking and screaming to look after our LGBTQ students, and I just think it’s really contrary to the gospel message of Jesus Christ.”

The Catholic School Board has said a gender-neutral bathroom meets the child’s needs and balances the interests of all the students.

Because the girl’s mother has filed a human rights complaint, the board won’t address their policy until a decision is made. Engel insists the district is meeting the changing needs of every student and providing them with a safe environment to learn.

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“Our policy is balanced on what we believe is best for all students. Many students like the privacy of their own personal space. We are doing what other educational organizations across the province are doing – MacEwan, NAIT and the City of Edmonton – we are providing a washroom for females and males called a gender-neutral washroom.”

Kris Wells from the University of Alberta’s Institute of Sexual Minorities Studies commends Grell for voicing her opinion on the issue.

“That’s why we have elected officials, to ensure that schools are safe spaces for all students regardless of their differences.”

*NOTE: This article was originally published on May 13. It was updated on May 14 to include comments from the Catholic School Board chair.

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