Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools says it will no longer work with a camp on Vancouver Island that it says doesn’t align with its values of providing safe and inclusive spaces.
A July 19 public statement by board of trustees chair Greg Keller says the school district has “severed its partnership” with the Christian Camp Qwanoes saying it does not align with the school district’s inclusion policies.
“Our decision to sever ties with Camp Qwanoes was influenced by our commitment to promoting an inclusive atmosphere,” the statements says in part. “While we respect diverse beliefs and opinions, it is crucial that our partnerships align with our core values and the principles of non-discrimination.”
NLPS executive director of communications Dale Burgos said the decision by the school district was precipitated by concerns raised by parents after seeing an April 2023 article in The Discourse that says an individual who planned to join the camp’s leadership program alleges the camp staff agreement required to be signed describes homosexuality, extra-marital sex and abortion as sinful.
The final page of the staff agreement, as posted in The Discourse’s article, notes that “certain expectations described above may not be explicitly commanded by Scripture.”
While the public statement from Keller did not indicate what the nature of NLPS’ partnership was with the camp, Burgos told the Sounder that schools in the district have organized year-end celebrations at the camp for Grade 7 students. The school district’s partnership with Camp Qwanoes dates back for at least almost a decade, Burgos said, but said no one currently on staff at the district could confirm for exactly how long Grade 7 trips to Camp Qwanoes have been organized by NLPS.
In a statement to the Sounder, NLPS Superintendent Scott Saywell said “ending the partnership with Camp Qwanoes is the right thing to do” for reasons including safety and well-being as well as rebuilding trust with families.
“Overall, ending the partnership with Camp Qwanoes allows the school district to reaffirm its commitment to inclusivity, equality and respect for all members of the school community. It ensures that school activities and experiences are consistent with the values and principles that underpin public education in the district,” Saywell said.
Scott Bayley, executive director of Camp Qwanoes, said in an email to the Sounder that the partnership with NLPS and the camp had been “effective and positive” and in the years the camp has had groups attend “there has never been a concern expressed to us relating to LGBTQ or religious concerns.
“We do not understand the SD68 NLPS decision and believe that the truth has been misrepresented,” Bayley said. “The SD68 public statement talks about being inclusive, but it seems that is only with people who agree with their beliefs.”
Camp Qwanoes describes itself as a Christian camp that “welcomes campers from all backgrounds,” its FAQ section on its website says, and “incorporates biblical principles into all of our programs and activities.”
Bayley said when public school groups attend the camp “there is no religious content or programs.”
NLPS’ inclusion policy states that members of the NLPS community “have the right to expect that policies, procedures, programs and communications are inclusive and respectful; taking into consideration visible and invisible diversities including but not limited to: race, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, religion, culture and socio-economic status.”
The Sounder asked NLPS how organizing school trips to a religion-based camp aligns with the school district’s inclusion policy, but did not receive a response as of press time.
NLPS said it is looking into alternative locations for future camping trips.
Rachelle Stein-Wotten, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Gabriola Sounder