Policy IHG – Respecting Human Rights (LGBTQ), is no more.
After hearing feedback from parents during the public forum earlier this month, saying Horizon School Board’s current policy – Policy IHF – Welcoming, Caring, Respectful, and Safe Learning Environments – was working just fine, the board decided to scrap the proposed policy and instead amend their Safe and Caring policy to align with the Minister of Education’s requirements.
“Based on ongoing feedback, and based on feedback with (the board, parents), over the last number of weeks since our open forum, what we’ve done actually is we brought forth a different policy,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent for HSB. “There was comment and feedback from community members and constituents that the notion of a stand alone policy was not warranted.”
The point was made during the forum that there was already a policy that placed all students under the safe and caring banner.
Having a separate policy on sexual orientation was not inclusive to all students.
What the board did then, was modify their existing Safe and Caring policy to include the information from the debunked policy.
“There was a feeling of, amongst individuals in our jurisdiction, that we really do believe that all kids deserve to be safe and caring, and all kids deserve to be respected and welcomed, and that it really shouldn’t matter whether you are talking about someone with a different colour, a different race, a different gender, a different sexual orientation or a different culture,” said Tymensen. “Really, we have a legal obligation to ensure any student who walks into our buildings is free from discrimination and harassment.”
Some of the changes made before the meeting included adding a definition of an independent student, principles that the regulations are founded on, amending staff and principal regulations, adding counsellor regulations, a section on gender identity and an appendix.
There were some further changes that were made during the meeting to the policy. For example, the board removed the brackets from around ‘and/or families’ in section 1.2.2 on staff regulations, to read, “When needed or requested, help students and/or their family identify and access appropriate resources and supports along the continuum of supports within or beyond the school”. This way, it clarifies that the school is not judging or forcing counselling and similar services on a student and their family, but recognizes their prerogative and is there, if help is requested.
“The intent is not to say that we’re saying, ‘You’re broken, we need to fix you and you will be going to this group, and they will fix you’. That is not our mandate. That’s a family decision.”
Another change is adding ‘all’ and ‘including’ to section 13, to read “To support the rights and needs of all students/staff including those who identify as, or are perceived to be, transgender or transsexual persons, jurisdiction staff shall adhere…”, so that it also supports the needs of other students. That way, if the child’s legal name is John Smith, but goes by John Johnson, he can go by Johnson – although a legal name change is required for him to go by John Johnson on official Alberta Education documents like diplomas. It also clarifies that any student could create an LBGTQ alliance or anti-bullying club.
Additionally, Tymensen also stresses that under section 13.5: Gender-Segregated Activities, while segregating students by gender should be minimized in classroom activities – such as for a game of Jeopardy in science classes – there are some classes that are exempt from this, such as a Physical Education course that separates and teaches girls and boys separately.
The board preformed the first reading of the amended policy, before opening the floor to eight concerned parents who had attended the meeting.
“Personally, this is much more settling, for me as a parent,” said Carolyn Johnson, to the board. “One of my focuses is, lets put everyone under the same umbrella. We’re all people. We all want to be treated respectfully, so I appreciated more of the umbrella, including all rights for everybody to be treated respectfully.”
She then inquired as to how gender-segregated activities would be affected in regards to sports teams, which are traditionally separated by male and female. Since sports team in Alberta are regulated by the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association, and will not be affected. Another parent questioned the use of the legal term ‘loco parentis’, or referring to staff members as ‘responsible caring parents in relation to students’ in sect. 1.2.1.
“I don’t think of staff as parents,” said Nicole Jennison, to the board. “And so I just question the need for this to be in here.”
“Certainly, we are not saying we are the parent, but in your absent we are acting in your place,” said Tymensen, adding that it is a legal mandate for the Alberta Teachers’ Association. “If there is an accident, we don’t sign off and say, ‘Go ahead and do the surgery’. But certainly, any kind of discipline, that normally the parents would discipline the child, but it’s the school’s role to do that, since you are acting in place of the parent guardian.”
The teacher of the child also has a professional obligation to work with families, and cannot discriminate against their beliefs.
Another concern was on sect. 1.2.5 – Utilize provincial and locally approved teaching and learning resources that respect Canada’s diversity – about bringing sensitive books into the classroom.
While library books do not need to be vetted by the board, they are separated by age, so books for grade 1s would not be nears books for grade 6s and so forth. As for books used as instruction materials, they tend to be from a pre-approved provincial list that, with a few exceptions like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, are not on controversial topics. If a teacher wishes to use a book not on that list, then the board must vet it beforehand.
“I can tell you, working with teachers, they tend to be very sensitive and very aware of the concerns of their communities, and choose carefully” said Amber Darroch, associate superintendent of curriculum and Instruction for HSB.
If a book with potentially sensitive material that will be used in classrooms, then a letter would be sent home to parents stating the topic and material, asking if parents don’t want their child to read it. Photocopies of sensitive pages would also be sent to parents to give them a better idea of what their child would be reading.
The list of resources that are on the back of the Best Practices guidelines are not on the approved reading the list for students, but are resources for people to learn about the issues on these subjects.
HSB will continue to welcome and receive feedback on the amended policy, but will only do so until March 24, before the break, as the policy must be sent to the minister by the end of the month.
“I want to thank you, as parents, for writing letters, for signing those petitions, and putting the pressure on the government, because that has helped us out a lot, to be able to do what you want us to do, with this policy,” said Bruce Francis, HSB vice-chair. “When we originally started down this road, it did not look good, for you and for us. And so I appreciate all the things that you did.
“I mean, there was 4,000 people that wrote about the Education Act, and 14,000 so far, have written about their opposition in this, so thank you very much for the help you have given us.”
“In many ways we’re all on the same page. Alberta Education has come out with some guidelines that are conflicting, and I really feel like it’s put lots of pressure on school boards, that they didn’t want – they were already functioning correctly,” said Johnson. “Our Minister of Education (David Eggen) has very politely, wasted everybody’s time.”
The current draft policy is available online at http://horizon.ab.ca/documents/general/IHF%20160315%201st%20reading%20approved.pdf.