Abortion debate ends Ottawa Catholic students' trip to Ohio
Published Friday, November 2, 2012 9:44PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, November 2, 2012 10:30PM EDT
Dozens of disappointed students protested at an Ottawa Catholic school on Friday after their trip to watch the U.S. presidential election was cancelled over an article posted to an anti-abortion website.
Wearing blue, chanting his name and holding signs reading “Team Searle,” the students staged a pep rally outside of St. Peter Catholic High School to show their support for civics teacher Scott Searle.
Searle had planned to take 52 pupils from St. Peter Catholic High School and St. Matthew Catholic High School to the swing state of Ohio on Saturday so they could observe the U.S. election process in its final days before Tuesday’s election.
But the trip was called off Wednesday night by the principal at St. Peter after negative comments were made in reaction to an article on the anti-abortion website LifeSiteNews.com. The article quoted an unnamed “incensed” Ottawa parent who claimed the excursion was a partisan effort to support U.S President Barack Obama and his pro-choice agenda.
The website also quoted an anonymous student who said Searle had made it clear the trip was to support Obama and that students would be calling people and going door to door to help get out the vote.
“The negative feelings and comments of people coming in, from people I didn’t know . . . I certainly did not want staff and students exposed to that kind of negativity,” principal Norma McDonald told CTV News.
However no formal complaints were made by parents to the school about the trip, said McDonald.
Searle did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
His LinkedIn profile lists him as an Obama volunteer this year. On his Facebook page last month he wrote “52 St. Peter’s students are travelling to Ohio for the last week of the election! Lets (sic) help the President bring it home!”
Searle’s political views did not influence her decision, said McDonald.
But they should have, according to John Jalsevac, an assistant editor at of LifeSiteNews.com. He told CTV News it’s wrong for a Catholic school to send its students to campaign on behalf of Obama in light of his stance on abortion.
However Chuck Ardo, with the Democratic Party of Ohio and an Obama campaign organizer, said the school shouldn’t have bowed to the controversy.
“The anti-abortion forces are imposing their views and thereby depriving these kids of an experience of a lifetime,” said Ardo.
University of Ottawa associate professor Nicholas Ng-A-Fook said the trip cancellation was a missed opportunity for students to learn about civic engagement.
“I think getting grade 10 students involved in civic engagement and the way in which the teacher did it with the students to potentially bring them down to witness a historical event in the United States, it should have taken place,” Ng-A-Fook told CTV’s Power Play.
Teaching itself is a political endeavour and there’s increasing debate about what teachers can talk about in the classroom, he noted.
“There’s a line being drawn in the sand in terms of saying that teachers are getting too politically involved in the classroom,” said Ng-A-Fook.
“The issue is how certain teachers are taking up certain issues in the classroom that other people don’t necessarily approve of or like.”
Students at the rally agreed the trip would have been a valuable learning experience and should have gone ahead.
“It wasn’t necessarily to support Obama, it was to see how politics go on,” said Grade 11 student Kashi Lussamaki. “This was to get students more involved.”
“This wasn’t meant to go for Obama, it was meant for a field trip to experience American elections and learn,” said Grade 11 student Catherine Johnson.
“I just thought it would be an opportunity to see how their political system works and everything, to see how it’s different from the Canadians,” said Grade 12 student Jasmine Cousineau.
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said Friday that trip decisions should be left up to the school board.
With a report from CTV's Richard Madan and CTV Ottawa’s Vanessa Lee