Red Deer Public Schools now have a sexual orientation and gender identity policy in place to provide an inclusive environment for sexual or gender minority students, employees and families.
On Dec. 9, all seven school board trustees unanimously supported the policy developed to protect “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, intersex, queer or questioning persons; persons who are labeled as such, whether they are or not; and persons with immediate family members who identify as a sexual or gender minority.”
A few parents from Gateway Christian School raised questions at that meeting where the policy went on to receive final board approval.
“I think there’s overwhelming support for the intent. But there might have been some specifics they didn’t agree with. But the overall intent for the protection of these individuals was overwhelming — 100 per cent support, ” said Dave Tilstra, school council chair for Gateway, on Tuesday.
One of the 16 regulations in the policy that initially raised concern dealt with the right of students and employees to use washroom and change room facilities that correspond to their lived gender identity, regardless of their sex assigned at birth. Where possible, gender neutral washrooms are to be made available.
He said parents were assured the issue would be handled in a respectful way for all parties.
“At the end of the day, what they came up with was acceptable,” Tilstra said.
School board chair Bev Manning said it was good to have the opportunity to discuss the policy with a lot of different opinions in the room.
“There is always going to be a difference of opinion, especially about a subject that people feel morally or religiously opposed to. Certainly we’ve seen throughout the province in other jurisdictions where (discussion) has kind of spiraled quite downhill quite rapidly. I felt in Red Deer, even though it was tough, we tackled it. And that made me feel good,” Manning said.
She said Red Deer Public Schools is all about helping every child be successful.
“Our job is to give them an opportunity for success, to learn, to grow, to graduate.”
Provincial law requires all school boards — public, separate, francophone and charter — to have policies in place by March 31 to create safe learning environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students. Support for the establishment of gay-straight alliances and queer-straight alliances must be included.
Education Minister David Eggen reminded school boards of their duty after Edmonton Catholic school board trustees fought openly in September about their draft policy on sexual orientation and gender identity.
A draft of Red Deer public’s proposed policy was referred to principals, school staff and councils, a co-ordinating committee, and the general community for further input prior to final approval.
Regulations in Red Deer public’s policy include:
• The district shall make resources and support services available for LGBTQ+ students and staff.
• Learning, curriculum and library resources shall reflect and value the diversity in the district, so that all students, including LGBTQ+ students see themselves and their lives positively reflected.
• Where students request clubs such as Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), Queer-Straight Alliances (QSAs), or other similar clubs, they shall be supported at all schools in the district. Students also have the right to call their club a GSA or QSA as required by provincial legislation. Parental permission or notification is not required to attend a GSA or QSA.
• Principals shall identify a staff person to be a safe contact for students who identify themselves as LGBTQ+. Principals will inform students and staff about the location and availability of this contact person.
• Any language or behaviour that deliberately incites hatred, prejudice, discrimination or harassment towards student or staff on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression will not be tolerated. Principals shall specifically include the prohibition of such language and behaviour in all Student Codes of Conduct. Allegations of homophobic or transphobic language, behaviour, or discrimination will be reported to the teacher or principal in the case of students.
Superintendent Stu Henry said the policy will be discussed at the next meeting with school administrators so they fully understand it and pass it on to their school communities.
He said it will be up to each principal to uphold the policy at their school. And like any other issue, people can meet with administrators at the district’s head office if they are not happy with a resolution determined at the school level.
“They have somebody here they can meet with and go through and see if it was dealt with fairly.”