EDMONTON – An Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting got extremely heated Tuesday evening as trustees were expected to vote on a proposed policy regarding gender identity and inclusion.
After several hours of back and forth, the topic was eventually put off until next month’s meeting. That decision had a member of Edmonton’s transgender community calling on Alberta’s education minister to step in.
“I call on the Minister of Education, David Eggen, to immediately address this issue by imposing an appropriate policy or desolving (sp) the ECSD Board of Trustees. Further, I call on the Minister to set guidelines for all school boards in Alberta to follow in such cases,” Marni Panas wrote in a blog following the meeting Tuesday.
The proposed policy, which Panas was involved in drafting, would allow students to use the washrooms and change rooms with which they identify, play on sports teams of their choosing and change their school records to align with their gender identities.
Panas said via Twitter she was in tears watching the meeting online from overseas.
The policy was developed after controversy arose over a transgender elementary school student who wanted to use the girls’ washroom. She was told by a teacher that she had to use the school’s gender-neutral bathroom instead.
Education Minister David Eggen said Wednesday morning he found the comments made by some of the trustees. to be “entirely unacceptable and quite disturbing.”
“What is a sensitive, important issue in regards to human rights broke and dissolved into acrimony,” said Eggen. “I don’t expect that I will see that again and if it does so there will be consequences.”
“I expect a higher standard from all elected officials here, generally in Alberta, and specifically with Edmonton Catholic.”
Eggen said he spoke with board chair Debbie Engel Wednesday morning and she assured him the board “will move forward to build a coherent transgender policy.”
Eggen said he will be monitoring the situation very carefully and expects it will be dealt with as soon as possible.
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“We know that it is our responsibility under the School Act and the responsibility of Edmonton Catholic under the School Act to ensure that we have safe, caring and secure places for all students.”
The girl’s mother, who has asked her name not be published, spoke before the meeting Tuesday to say she was there “not only for my child but all the transgender children in the Catholic system.”
“Today is not only about the rights, responsibility and obligations of care of all children, it’s also about accountability of our actions,” the mother said before getting cut off due to a three-minute time allowance.
Before discussions on the policy began Tuesday, Trustee Cindy Olsen hoped to pass an amendment to drop the topic from the agenda. Olsen said the board needed more time to discuss the draft policy and consult with parents.
“My intention was to give the board time to discuss and provide an opportunity for consultation on an inclusion policy. My comments and intent last night was to remove the item temporarily from the agenda which would give us time to discuss and consult with our community,” Olsen said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
After pushback from other trustees – Vice-Chair Marilyn Bergstra in particular – a vote was held and the discussion went ahead as planned. Tempers in the room and on social media quickly flared, with a clear divide on the topic.
In the end, trustees voted in favour of referring the vote on the policy until Oct. 15 with the hope that more discussion and consultation can take place.
The trustees then voted to end the meeting. All other issues on Tuesday’s agenda were put on hold.
Following the meeting, Archbishop Richard Smith released the statement below, saying in part, “The Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta has approved a resource document intended to assist Catholic school divisions in formulating policies and procedures to address the needs of students around gender identity and expression.”
The Archbishop encouraged trustees to consider CCSSA resources when drafting district policies.
Read the full statement below.
With files from Kent Morrison, Slav Kornik, Global News.