Bill 44: Board expresses distain over ‘attack’ on education

A proposed government bill giving parents the ability to lodge human rights complaints over touchy classroom discussions is an attack on public school education, a Red Deer Public School Board meeting heard on Wednesday.

A proposed government bill giving parents the ability to lodge human rights complaints over touchy classroom discussions is an attack on public school education, a Red Deer Public School Board meeting heard on Wednesday.

Several school trustees expressed their disdain over a section of Bill 44, which passed second reading hours earlier in the legislature on Wednesday.

Third reading is still needed.

The bill, known as the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Amendment Act, would allow parents to go before the Alberta Human Rights Commission if they found out spontaneous student-led discussions on religion, sexuality and sexual orientation came up in class without their knowledge.

“When you are trying to eliminate open discussions in our classrooms, you are undermining democracy,” said trustee Gail Holland.

“I find this reprehensible, inexcusable. . . it’s an attack on public school education.”

Holland added the bill doesn’t pertain to private or charter schools.”

The school board unanimously decided on Wednesday to write to Education Minister Dave Hancock, Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett and Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski and Red Deer South MLA Cal Dallas.

They would like to see a section of the act which addresses this issue eliminated.

Board chairman Bill Stuebing said Bill 44 was a “little bit of a sleeper” at first because educators believed what was being recommended was already under the School Act.

Under the provincial act, parents can have their children pulled from topics concerning religion and human sexuality.

The existing legislation has worked well, Stuebing said.

Most parents are understanding, but the concern is with the few who could lodge human rights complaints because of this new legislation, he said.

Those complaints could end up stifling student discussion, he said.

“Here’s a bill that is supposed to protect against discrimination and is now discriminatory,” Stuebing said.

Trustee Cathy Peacocke expressed concerns over the impact on learning, plus the administrative and legal difficulties she expects will emerge.

“I am very much against this,” she said.

The diverse groups — Alberta School Boards Association, Alberta School Councils’ Association, Alberta Teachers’ Association and College of Alberta School Superintendents — are united in their fight against the bill.

“When groups like that come together, there’s a crisis at hand,” said trustee Lawrence Lee.

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