February 18, 2016 7:11 pm
Updated: February 19, 2016 12:30 am

Alberta school division defies province on LGBTQ rules

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announces guidelines for schools to ensure safe and inclusiveness for LGBTQ students, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016.

Fletcher Kent, Global News

EDMONTON – An Alberta school division has voted to defy the education minister and not submit a policy on transgender and other sexual minority students.

Dale Lederer, a trustee with the Fort Vermilion School Division, confirmed to The Canadian Press that the decision was made by the board at a meeting on Jan. 18.

“The board voted unanimously to leave the policy the way that it was, which they felt already protected all students,” Lederer said Thursday.

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Lederer declined to comment further and said board chairman Clark McAskile could provide more details. McAskile could not be immediately reached for comment.

A spokesman for Education Minister Dave Eggen said the department has not received official notification from the Vermilion division, but the minister is aware of the decision and has reached out to trustees.

“We’re following up with them for more information,” said Jeremy Nolais. “We’re trying to finalize a meeting with them and the minister soon, probably in the next two weeks.”

Nolais said the department hasn’t heard of any other school divisions declining to work with the province on policies that are due by March 31.

Eggen has a number of options to sanction school boards that do not follow government directives. One of them is to dissolve the boards. He has never said he would do so over the LGBTQ policy, but has added he always keeps his options open.

READ MORE: Eggen believes Alberta Catholic schools will cooperate on LGBTQ policy

“The minister has said, and we maintain, that we believe we can work collaboratively with boards,” said Nolais.

“We want to talk to Fort Vermilion and address any concerns they have about these guidelines and hope we can come to some common ground.”

Fort Vermilion is a sprawling, public school division tucked away in the northwest corner of the province. It includes the municipalities of High Level and Fort Vermilion.

It and Alberta’s other 60 school boards have been directed by Eggen to write draft policies to make schools safer and more accepting of LGBTQ students.

The province has handed out 12 guidelines it expects to see reflected in the policies. They were sent a month ago and have become the focus of heated debate.

The province has suggested policies include allowing students to join sports teams, dress and use washrooms based on their sexual identity or on what they perceive their gender to be.

Schools would not be allowed to inform parents of a student’s decision on those matters.

Eggen has declined to say which, if any, of the guidelines must be strictly adhered to, which can be honoured in a conceptual sense and which can simply be honoured in spirit.

On Thursday night, Eggen issued a statement to Global News which indicated he would work with Fort Vermilion School Division officials in order to address their concerns.

“We are working we every school authority in the province to build policies that support all students,” the statement said. “I have been asked by school officials in Fort Vermilion to meet to discuss this important work and my office is working to arrange a meeting in the next few weeks. This is a collaborative process and I’m happy to meet with our education partners.”

Some of Alberta’s Catholic church leaders have been highly critical of the guidelines. They say church teachings state that one’s sexuality is a God-given gift and to alter it is to challenge divine will.

READ MORE: Calgary bishop slams LGBTQ rules; calls Alberta NDP ‘anti-Catholic’

They also say Catholic schools already provide safe, caring environments for all students.

With files from Stephanie Holmes

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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