Original Published on Jul 28, 2022 at 20:49

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Winnipeg mother has filed a human rights complaint alleging that Calvin Christian School’s elementary principal discriminated against her son by asking him to leave his rainbow flag at home and failed to protect him from homophobia.

“Kids shouldn’t be singled out at school and be told that they shouldn’t talk about being gay… and that it’s their fault other kids on the playground are teasing them for it,” said Jennaya Isaac, who has four children, including 12-year-old Kaiden Isaac.

Isaac said she is following through with the time-intensive process of making a report to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission because of her frustration about how Kaiden, who recently finished Grade 5, has been treated at the private religious school.

Principal John Sawatzky’s mid-June apology to the family regarding the handling of incidents related to Kaiden waving a rainbow banner at recess came far too late, in the wake of repeated requests from the school board and news reports about the issue, according to the mother.

(Kaiden would be enrolled in the public school system if the elementary student and his mother had the authority to make that decision, Isaac said, noting she shares custody with his father and he wants their children to attend the Christian academy.)

On May 26, the fifth grader took a newly gifted Pride flag to school. He took it out for recess so he and his younger sister could wave it in the wind atop a play structure, per Isaac’s formal complaint. The two-page document alleges that Sawatzky later pulled Kaiden out of class to tell him to leave his banner at home and that the boy was accused of both trying to make a statement and teaching other children inappropriate things that should only be discussed with their parents.

The complaint also discusses a follow-up incident that happened the next week, when some of Kaiden’s peers teased him after he took the flag out during morning recess. One child threatened to cut and burn the flag, states an excerpt in the complaint, which notes the altercation resulted in Grade 5 students being kept inside for their afternoon recess.

“(Kaiden’s younger sister) was also flying the flag with him, and wearing it on her back as a cape. I believe that Kaiden was singled out, and not Alina, because it is known at the school that Kaiden is gay,” Isaac wrote in her complaint.

The mother said she was unsatisfied with an hours-long meeting that was organized between her, the principal and the volunteer chairperson of the school board in mid-June. As far as Isaac is concerned, there needs to be human rights training for staff and a culture shift at the school.

Calvin Christian and Sawatzky have been deemed respondents in the complaint.

Sawatzky did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

School board chairman Ron Pluchinski said he does not anticipate this matter to be resolved quickly.

“We’ve committed to making some changes, primarily focused on education and working with consultants around how to approach (acceptance and inclusion),” Pluchinski said, when reached by phone.

A spokesperson for the human rights commission declined to comment, other than to state the complaint process is confidential until an issue is referred to a public hearing.

This item reprinted with permission from Free Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba