EDMONTON — Alberta will wait a year to implement Canada’s first legislation giving parents the power under its human rights code to pull their children from lessons on religion, sex or sexual orientation.
The legislation has been widely condemned by school boards, teachers and human rights groups who say the new law is extreme because parents already have similar rights under the School Act.
Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett had been insisting that the legislation should take effect this fall, while Education Minister Dave Hancock was pushing for a one-year delay.
Their apparent rift over this issue had been widely reported in the media this week.
But Hancock said after speaking with Blackett, they agreed that the section of the legislation dealing with parental rights will be delayed, so it won’t be proclaimed into law until Sept. 1, 2010.
“We spoke (Thursday) and I don’t think there’s going to be any issue with it,” Hancock said. “But obviously the final decision is up to cabinet, but this is the normal course.”
Blackett said he now agrees school boards need an extra year to put a formal process in place for notifying parents of lessons that they may not find suitable for their children.
“We still have some bylaws to write and it makes sense for all of us to take the proper time to get that right,” Blackett said. “Our intention is certainly not to get school boards before the Human Rights Commission.”
“So instead of having it effective December 1st or January 1st, we can wait until September of 2010.”
Carol Henderson, president of the Alberta Teachers Association, said the union supports the delay.
“There’s no need to rush it,” said Henderson. “We want to avoid having our members in front of human rights tribunals and the school boards don’t have a policy in place yet and we haven’t worked out implementation.”
The goal of teachers will be to avoid conflict by talking directly with parents if they raise concerns about the content of lessons, said Henderson.
One of the issues that needs to be clarified is what constitutes notice to parents, who must be told when lessons on sex, religion or sexual orientation are scheduled, said Henderson.
“Does that mean sending a note home from the teacher or can it simply be having the curriculum posted on the website?” she said. “So all those things have to be worked out before we proclaim the bill so that we can prepare teachers.”