Catholic school trustees worry proposed legislation, ensuring students who join gay-straight alliances are not outed without their permission, could erode local school board autonomy.
Another issue for the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association (ACSTA) is the blanket refusal to communicate information that might be important to parents.
“There seems to be a lot of dialogue on outing children. This is not what this is about. It’s about developing a very good, thorough piece of legislation so that we can take into account what the possibilities of unintended consequences are and how to mitigate those,” said ACSTA president Adriana LaGrange Tuesday.
Gay-straight alliances are social clubs run by students to help LGBTQ students feel welcome and lessen the chance of bullying.
Students already have the right under legislation to set up an alliance in their school, and government says Bill 24 will provide updated rules to clarify language, mandate action, and close loopholes.
LaGrange said the ACSTA’s concerns are not about gay-straight alliances.
“Once the club is formed, my understanding is a notice goes out to all parents saying that an inclusion club has formed in one of our catholic schools. Then it allows the parent to have the opportunity to have the conversation with the student so there is no outing of students whatsoever,” said LaGrange who is also a trustee with Red Deer Catholic Regional School board.
She said Alberta Education has advised the ACSTA that Alberta’s FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) legislation will supersede Bill 24 amendments so if a child is at risk of imminent harm or danger for whatever reason, a parent will be notified in accordance with the teacher’s professional and legal obligations.
But as it stands now FOIP and Bill 24 compete with each other, she said.
“We don’t feel that it is clear in Bill 24 when, or if, parents will be notified when a child is in real danger and how real danger be defined. We want further clarity on that.”
The ACSTA says amendments also threaten local school board autonomy if it forces school principals to immediately grant permission or the establishment of the student organization or the holding of the activity at the school.
“The immediate approval of an activity transfers control from the principal to the student. In no other circumstance can a student expect immediate approval of an activity that they propose. We very much believe that principals must be empowered to exercise their professional judgment.”
LaGrange said the spirit of the bill, to protect vulnerable students, is good. But it could put a strain on the parent-teacher relationship, which could erode local school board autonomy.
“We feel that locally elected school boards in collaboration with all our education partners, including students, are in the best position to develop policy and codes that reflect the overall culture and needs of their community.”