Religion rule foils teacher’s bid for job
Amy Davignon wants everybody to know she’s not sore at anyone.
Photo by Vince Fedoroff
DISAPPOINTMENT – After spending her entire primary and high school years in the Whitehorse Catholic school system, Amy Davignon is having a hard time accepting she can’t apply to be hired as a permanent Catholic school teacher because she wasn’t baptized.
Amy Davignon wants everybody to know she’s not sore at anyone.
She’s upset with the system – the strict Catholic school policy of only hiring permanent teachers who are Catholic.
As a recent graduate of teacher’s college in Edmonton, Davignon has been working as a substitute teacher, up to four days a week at one of the three Catholic schools in Whitehorse. She doesn’t want to specify which one, because it’s not the school she has a problem with.
She worked full-time on a short-term contract last spring to finish out the year.
As a substitute teacher, Davignon prays with her students everyday and supports the curriculum the same as any other staff member.
Born and raised in Whitehorse, she went through the Catholic school system, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, and graduated from Vanier Catholic Secondary School in 2005.
But when she applied for a permanent teaching position last year, she was turned down because she was never baptized, she explained in an interview this week.
“And I do know there has been others turned down because they have not been baptized,” she told the Star.
She said the position she applied for was filled by an applicant from the east coast.
The 23-year-old said she understands the intent of the age-old policy. She perhaps would have an easier time accepting it if the schools were managed and funded by a private and separate Catholic school system.
The three Whitehorse Catholic schools are funded from the public purse, she pointed out.
Furthermore, Davignon emphasized, not all the students attending the Catholic schools are of the Catholic faith.
“It is a publicly funded school, so I do not understand why I do not have the right to teach there,” she said.
“And I was also strongly encouraged to go and get baptized so I could work in the school.
“I personally think it is worse to get baptized for a job than it is not to be baptized, so I did not.”
Catholic Bishop Gary Gordon applauds Davignon’s decision to reject the recommendation to get baptized just so she could apply for permanent status.
He does, on the other hand, stand by the policy that requires applicants applying for permanent teaching jobs at Catholic schools be Catholic.
The bishop said the Catholic school system is built on ensuring students are presented with the beliefs and faith which are fundamental to the religion.
Having Catholic teachers is an essential means of achieving that goal, Gordon explained.
The bishop said only in the very rare case when positions cannot be filled by a Catholic teacher are exceptions made. He knows of only one exception in the five years he’s been leading the Whitehorse dioceses.
He said he sees applications from across Canada, and the search to fill a vacancy can be nationwide.
That said, the bishop explained, the policy has not been an issue as far as he knows.
Permanent teaching positions, after all, don’t come up all that often, Gordon said.
The bishop also emphasized he’s not involved in the selection process, but reviews all the applications to only confirm their Catholic qualifications.
To apply for a permanent position at one of the three schools in Whitehorse, the only Catholic schools in the territory, a teacher must supply a letter of support from his or her church, a personal letter of faith and a baptismal certificate, according to government policy, which is supported by the Education Act.
The policy stills provides little comfort to Davignon, who, like many young students pursuing teaching careers, dreamed of getting her degree and some day returning to the values she learned at the elementary school she grew up in.
When she left Whitehorse for Edmonton, she didn’t know of the policy, and only learned of it when she applied for the permanent position last year.
Now, she said, it feels she like she went into the profession with a false sense of hope.
Davignon said she doesn’t accept that the policy has to be so rigid, particularly when there are so many exceptions for substitute teachers, contract teachers and educational assistants.
There is no requirement for school receptionists to be Catholic, she said. To boot, she reiterated, a good number of students attending those schools are not Catholic.
She said she doesn’t get how she could attend a school as a student, but can’t get a permanent job teaching there.
Davignon said she began substitute teaching in January 2010 not long after arriving home from university, and subbed regularly. In March, she was given a three-month contract to finish out the year full-time.
“Then my job came open as a permanent job and I applied on it and they would not hire me because I was not baptized,” she said.
“If I am there everyday, what difference does it make, if I am hired permanently or just as a sub…. Again, I do not understand how that could work with a publicly funded school.”
Davignon said it was not her preference to go public.
Initially, she said, she was looking at a legal challenge. Then she learned the right of the Catholic school system to show preference based on religion is enshrined in the Yukon Human Rights Act.
She did, however, want to shed light on her plight, and on the situation of others in the same boat.
Davignon said she plans to go back to university next year to study in the field of social work.
Of the 954 students currently enrolled in the three Catholic schools, approximately one quarter or 240 students are non-Catholic, according to statistics provided by the school principals through the Department of Education,
Val Jensen, the department’s director of human resources, said of the 170 students attending Holy Family Elementary School, approximately 43 are not Catholic.
Of the 344 going to Christ the King Elementary, 86 are not Catholic, she said.
Jensen said approximately 110 of the 440 students attending Vanier Catholic Secondary School are not Catholic.
Of the 78 teachers employed at the three schools, 12 are not Catholic, and all 12 are employed in temporary positions left vacant by permanent teachers on long-term leave like maternity leave, she said.
“You could be employed at one of the three Catholic schools in the City of Whitehorse for a number of years,” Jensen said. “But every year you’re sitting in somebody else’s seat.
“Anytime there is a permanent position, we try very hard to fill this position with an individual that has the qualifications to teach in the Catholic faith.”
Jensen explained the department did not get involved in tracking the religious background of teachers at the three schools until three years ago.
There may be some of the 66 permanent positions which are held by non-Catholic teachers who were hired as exceptions years ago because a Catholic teacher could not be found to fill the position, she said.
Jensen doubts there’s more than one or two in that category.
Hiring substitute teachers who are not Catholic is a matter of logistics, and supply and demand, she said, explaining it wouldn’t be feasible to accept only Catholic subs.
Similarly, because of the different qualifications and skill sets of education assistants working with students who have specific and individual needs, there is no Catholic-only policy for teaching assistants in Catholic schools, she said.
Katherine Mackwood, president of the Yukon Teachers’ Association, said Thursday she has not been made aware of hiring concerns arising out of the Catholic school system.
She is concerned, however, about the freshman teacher and the possibility of ramifications for going public with her thoughts.
“And you can quote me on that,” she said.