These Young Women Deserve Answers From the Catholic School Board

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Thunder Bay Queens Womeen's Hockey

By Jim Mauro

THUNDER BAY – OPINION – In a previous article, I spoke about Title IX in the US that made funding of women’s sports mandatory. This policy had an enormous impact on the success of female athletes but with our local catholic school board, it seems young women still face unnecessary challenges.

The Female Sports School Challenge women’s hockey tournament was being held in Winnipeg this past January, hosted by St. Mary’s Catholic private prep school. This tournament was going to be attended by the Thunder Bay Queens U18AA team. The tournament itself is a showcase where players are scouted, recruited, and potentially receive scholarship offers, here or in the United States.

The tournament was conflicting with the final exam schedule of some schools. This was not a concern at the beginning of the school year because athletes from both the girls and boys’ teams have been accommodated for major events. This year however, the girls were not going to be accommodated due to the exam schedule.

On December 8th, 2023, a letter was sent from the parents of the team to two Catholic School Trustees requesting the girls be allowed to attend this tournament. They outlined how this is a major tournament that could lead to enormous scholastic and athletic opportunities for these young women. In this letter was also a reference to the issue of the boys Thunder Bay Kings possibly being accommodated with their exam schedule. What was noticeable was this quote from the letter to the trustees:

… Sadly, if in any other circumstance, such as mental health, sickness, drug use or any issue that may cause a student to struggle, the student would be accommodated…

If the letter is to be believed, how does the Board square the issue that drug use would be a reason to miss an exam, but a huge opportunity in sports would not be? I would attempt to confirm the statement was accurate by contacting the Board office.

On December 13th, the parents of the girls received a letter signed by the Chair of the Board, Tony Romeo. The letter stated they are supporting school administration’s decision to not amend the exam schedule for the Queens, the boys were not being accommodated and student success is a priority. He went on to state that examination dates were given at the beginning of the year but the sentence that is disturbing is this:

….In the future, schools, families, and coaches must work together to ensure that tournaments are not scheduled during examination periods….

How exactly is a team from Thunder Bay supposed to reschedule a tournament held in Winnipeg for teams from across the country?

The Queens U18AA coaching staff had reached out to the host tournament. Here are the most important parts:

this is not the first time…this has occurred. In previous years, the ..host school…has provided appropriate space within their school to facilitate exam writing.

For background, St. Mary’s Academy Flames participates in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL)… the focus is equally on academics and sport for these student athletes. The CSSHL is the only sport school league sanctioned by Hockey Canada. The St. Mary’s Academy Flames U18..team began in 2011-2012 and in 2013 Hockey Canada approached the school and team to host the Female World Sport School Challenge (FWSSC). Hockey Canada awarded the FWSSC permanently to St. Mary’s for a number of reasons such as their commitment to excellence in academics, focus on the student as a whole (including academics, athletics, personal development, leadership and faith)….

the game schedule for Thunder Bay can be aligned to allow the students to write their exam in the morning and play later.

A hockey Canada sponsored event, given to St. Mary’s because of their record of academic and sport achievement. This seems like something that may be important to the school Board.

On December 18th, the Thunder Bay Queens Board sent an email to the three Board Superintendents. Within that correspondence was the actions the Queens took to assist the Board/schools with their intramural program. It was done so that members of the Queens could participate, something that the schools wanted. Asking the Queens for assistance seemed easier than granting the Queens assistance. The letter outlined the unique challenges faced by the Queens in participating in high level competition, given their limited budget. Winnipeg was a perfect place as they did not have to fly to other locations or pay in US dollars if they travelled to the states.

This Winnipeg tournament was also heavily scouted and the Queens, ranked number 1 in the Ontario and number 7 in the country would certainly get some attention from scouts. Future scholarships or furthering hockey careers were opportunities that were limited for these young women. This tournament was vital to at least giving them a chance.

I spoke to Chantal Keating from the Queens organization, confirming that St. Mary’s school had offered to proctor the exam even to the point that the girls would write at the same time as they would if they remained in Thunder Bay. This solution seemed to check off all the boxes when it came to the security of the exam and ensuring that their students fulfilled their academic requirements. They also indicated to the Board no extra work would be required for any staff in Thunder Bay. The answer should have been an immediate yes but then there would not be a story, would there.

The Queens received a phone call from 2 of the 3 superintendents who indicated that the third superintendent was unavailable and given that it was Christmas week, they would address the matter as soon as they returned from break on January 8th. The Board was fully aware at this point, of the offer from St. Mary’s to proctor the exam.

On January 10th, not having heard back from the Board, Keating reached out again. This time she received another phone call from Omar Belisle who indicated that at the direction of Director Pino Tassone, no accommodation for the girls would be made and they would have to write their exam along with the other students. Keating requested a formal answer in writing. Nothing was ever provided to the Queens in writing but speaking to several individuals, these statements seem accurate and as you will see, the Board itself is less than forthcoming on correcting any alleged “inaccuracies” that may exist.

The team met that evening to discuss what the next steps were, and the coaches were leaving it up to each individual player to decide what was best for them. Stay home for grades or support the team and risk losing marks. It should be noted that US schools review all four high school years when looking at granting scholarships, so even those girls in grade 10, had to consider what they would be willing to do.

For ease and certainly safety, the Queen’s had booked a bus for everyone to attend together. Not knowing who would go or stay, the bus was cancelled and the girls attending the tournament were on our area highways in January which is never ideal. But the story is still not over.

Five of the players from this team attend St. Ignatius High School and on Monday preceding the tournament, all five were summoned to the office and called in to speak to the Vice-Principal one at a time. According to sources not one parent was advised of this while it was happening.

All five were told that if they did not attend exams or if they called in sick on exam day, they would be given a zero. You are a 15,16, or 17-year-old female student, called down to the office as if you had done something wrong and are being advised of what will happen should you attend a tournament that could have a major impact on your future. The power imbalance that was taking place at that moment is apparent. I was unable to confirm if any other student called in sick on their exam day and were allowed to write on the make-up day, the following Wednesday. That Wednesday is called Exam Accommodation on the school calendar. It seems, this wonderful opportunity for these young women, didn’t qualify.

I spoke with one of these girls who felt intimidated by the trip to the office. She indicated that it bothered her for the entire week and had an enormous impact on her effort in the tournament. The impact on the students that chose not to write their exams was significant on their final marks.

Why couldn’t the following Wednesday be used for the players as it would be for those students who were sick? Why could they not have written a day earlier with a different exam created? I was advised that the public-school board did not prevent any of their players from attending this tournament and the exam schedule at the public board is identical to the Catholic Board.

One student requested being able to write earlier Friday morning so that they could get an early start to Winnipeg to join her team. When this young woman went in to write her exam, the boys were already writing so that they could make their flight later that morning to head south for their games. I attempted to get an explanation/confirmation for this but was unsuccessful. Recall the letter from Mr. Romeo that stated the boys were not being accommodated.

I reached out to several individuals for comment on this article. I made four attempts at the Principal, Superintendent, Director, and Trustee Level and extended my submission date by several days. It must have been a coincidence that at 3:46pm on Friday before the long weekend, I received an email response from the Communications department of the Board advising me how much they value their local news sources. They advised that what I was told or had seen on social media was inaccurate. Unfortunately, they did not tell me where the story was inaccurate, but they did tell me that their response to me was a “courtesy”.

They told me that all players from both the Kings and Queens were given “adequate accommodation” and “equal opportunity to write their examinations”. They did not say that each group received the same accommodation. They also did not supply a name or contact number for anyone for me to speak to directly and I am unsure what “equal opportunity to write their exam” means.

Studies have shown the girls start to move away from sports around grade 8. Even governments are trying to find ways to keep young women involved in a healthy lifestyle. The lessons learned in organized sports can be life altering and foster development of future coaches. This story should have been one of success and support.

These young women are just the kind of students we hope to produce from our education/athletic systems yet here they are, learning a valuable lesson about power and control and those who wield it. According to Keating this ordeal had an impact on the entire team, and they did not play up to their potential.

I also spoke to parents and players for this story. All conveyed basically the same facts and I was supplied with copies of correspondence from the Queens, Mr. Romeo and from St. Mary’s to review. Given that no one from the Board would return any of my attempts to speak to someone directly, I only have their statement that my information is “inaccurate”.

The Board’s email could have clearly stated that the boys were not treated differently than the girls. They could have explained why the offer from St. Mary’s School to proctor the exam was not sufficient. They could have answered my question as to why the five young girls at St. Ignatius were singled out by being called to see the Vice-Principal. And had I been given the chance, I may have asked why it was not okay for students to miss an exam for a sporting opportunity, but it was okay for a teacher to miss a week of school including the exam for the same reason.

This is what many believe should happen. Eliminate the zero from these students’ marks. Either give them the chance to write the exam or give them the mark they had earned without this exam. To have placed these students in this position seems counter-intuitive to the development of our future leaders in business, government, and coaching. Also, allow the five girls that were singled out, to convey to the Board how they felt by being called to the office and being put into a very difficult position. Will the board do this?

The view of the parents was that all of this was unnecessary. Is this truly the catholic way? If so, I believe that the public board can teach the Catholic Board a thing or two about helping thy fellow man, or woman in this case. Too many questions for the Board and far too few answers. Just a thought.

Writers Note: All parents and players wanted to remain confidential. They all expressed apprehension about being quoted in this article as they are still within the school system.  I have also attached the email from the Board for readers to review and to decide for themselves if the Board addressed any of the issues raised in this article, most of which I had asked for comment on.

If the story is inaccurate, I hope the Board will provide the verifiable correct information and I will gladly update this story.  If you have any comments about this story or any suggestions for other topics to be covered, I can be reached at maurojustathought@gmail.com. As always sources will remain confidential. 

May 17, 3:46 Pm

Dear Mr. Mauro,

We value our local news sources, as they safeguard our integrity, ensure our messages are conveyed accurately, and maintain our professional reputation. Other local news sources have found this to be a non-story, as the information you have heard or seen via social media is inaccurate.

As a courtesy, we have attached a copy of the student handbook/agenda, which identifies school rules, expectations, calendar dates, code of conduct, etc. This document was provided to local news sites. We expect your standards to adhere to theirs in receiving this information.

We cannot comment on student grades, but we can say in good faith that ALL students, whether King or Queen athletes, were given adequate accommodations and equal opportunity to write their examinations.

At the beginning of each school year, TBCDSB High School students receive a student handbook/agenda that identifies school rules, expectations, calendar dates, code of conduct, etc.

The TBCDSB high school handbook/agenda identifies the assessment, evaluation and reporting policy. In regards to final exams, the documentation explicitly states that an extended holiday or sports tournament does not qualify as an excused absence from writing an exam:

Exam/Summative Assignment Policy

All students will complete a final examination in each course and complete other summative assessments as part of the student evaluation process. Advanced notice must be given to the principal if for a serious reason the student cannot write the exam on the set date (an extended holiday or sports tournament is not an acceptable reason). The principal will set an alternate date and time to write the exam. Alternate dates for completion of summative assignments must be negotiated with the teacher (the late assignment policy may apply).

Examination dates for both semesters are detailed at the beginning of the year, giving ample time for students, parents, and guardians to identify any conflicting dates. Parents and guardians are also informed of the exam accommodation policy at the Grade 8 Open House the year before entering high school.

Respectfully, this was a courtesy email and the accommodation expectations are clear. Sincerely,
Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board

TBCDSB Communications Team – Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board

www.tbcschools.ca

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