EDMONTON — Teachers and school boards in Alberta are trying to figure out how human rights legislation letting parents pull their children out of lessons on sex, religion or sexual orientation will impact day-to-day life in the classroom.
While the government has said the effects will be minimal, school boards and human rights groups fear the law is too vague and opens teachers up to complaints for simply doing their job.
They’ve argued it should be scrapped and the issue should be dealt with under the Schools Act rather than being enshrined as a human right.
But the governing Tories, with a huge majority, were expected to pass the law this week.
A small group of gays and lesbians held an emotional rally at the legislature on Monday against Bill 44.
“It’s not OK to pick on my kids because you don’t like me,” said gay parent Lance Anderson.
Alberta School Boards Association president Heather Welwood said attention is now shifting from protesting the bill to making sure it’s implemented in the best way possible for teachers and schools.
The legislation means schools boards will have to give parents written notice any time the controversial topics are “explicitly” covered in the curriculum.
“We want to nail down exactly what’s required for notification — when it’s required, exactly on what topics it’s required, how often, and we’ll be seeking our own legal advice … on that,” said Welwood.
Frank Bruseker, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said he’s advised the group’s lawyers to prepare to defend any teachers who are brought before the human rights tribunal.
The association will also take a close look at any potentially dangerous subject matter to help protect teachers, he said.
“We’ll need to review curricula right across all subjects and all grades to see where there might be a minefield, if you will, that a teacher might step in and suddenly find themselves in deep trouble.”
Figuring out the nitty gritty details of the broad bill could be a lot of work, Welwood said.
“If this goes through, we need to be prepared. We need to support our staff, we need to support our parents, we need to know exactly what it involves.”
Students have also gotten involved with the argument surrounding the legislation.
A Facebook page called “Students against Bill 44” had more than 1,700 members as of Monday afternoon.
Organizers urged concerned students to send letters to Liberal member of the legislature Laurie Blakeman so they could be tabled in the house.
“This bill will hinder our learning about diversified groups in our country; thus, attempting to restrict the adults of tomorrow by cutting us off from the issues of today,” wrote Grade 10 student Katherine Creelman in her letter, which was posted as an example.
“We cannot let the government take away our emerging global perspectives and ideas about our world.”
Students with an opposing view joined another Facebook group “Students for Bill 44,” which had about 30 members.
On that page, organizers argue that school boards have biases in they way they teach subjects.
Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett has said the government is allowing parents to be more involved and doesn’t want to cause problems for schools or teachers. The legislation is supported by the “silent majority” of Alberta parents, he insisted.
Last week, the government made minor changes to the legislation in an attempt to clarify when it will apply. The amendments state parents won’t be able to pull their children out of class if the topics come up in an incidental or indirect way during discussions.