Alberta education minister assigns advisor to oversee Edmonton Catholic School Board

EDMONTON – Alberta’s education minister, David Eggen, announced Wednesday he appointed an expert advisor to work with Edmonton Catholic Schools to improve board governance.

“I expect elected members of all school boards across Alberta to act in the best interests of students,” explained Eggen.

“Over the past few weeks, it has become apparent that the board of Edmonton Catholic Schools must improve its practices.”

“To ensure this happens, I have appointed a firm with extensive experience in improving board governance to assist Edmonton Catholic with its current issues.”

National Growth Partners, co-led by Donald Cummings, will work with the district and provide recommendations to improve overall board effectiveness.

The cost of the hiring will be $60,000 for a six month contract.

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WATCH: After weeks of heated debate over a gender identity policy for Edmonton Catholic Schools, the province is stepping in. Kendra Slugoski reports.

The minister’s decision came a day after the Edmonton Catholic School Board passed the first reading of the sexual orientation and gender identity policy.

The first reading of the policy passed by a six-to-one vote Tuesday night. The move came after nearly three hours of back and for the between trustees. Several amendments were made to the policy, which will now go forward for public consultation between Nov. 2 and 17.

WATCH: The first reading of the Edmonton Catholic School Board’s sexual orientation and gender identity policy passed at a board meeting Tuesday night. Jessica Kent has the details.

Trustee Larry Kowalczyk apologized to the LGBTQ community for some of the terminology he used to describe gender dysphoria. At the board’s last meeting in September, Kowalczyk told media that he considers being transgender a mental disorder.

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READ MORE: Vote on transgender policy put on hold after heated debate by Edmonton Catholic School trustees

While transgender woman Marni Panas accepted Kowalczyk’s apology, she does so with some reservation.

“An apology doesn’t start with five minutes of rhetoric explaining why I think you have a mental disorder and then apologizing at the end. It’s sort of like, ‘Sorry not sorry,'” Panas said.

WATCH: A transgender woman gives her thoughts about the decision by Edmonton Catholic School Board to pass the first reading of its sexual orientation and gender identity police.

The debate over the policy started earlier this year after a seven-year-old transgender girl wanted to use the girl’s washroom in her Catholic school.

She was no longer identifying as a boy and didn’t want to stand out by having to use a new, gender-neutral washroom.

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In May, the school in Edmonton had agreed she could use the female facilities.

But the girl, whose mother knows her daughter is wise beyond her years, wasn’t buying it.

“I’m actually going to need to see that in writing, Mama,” the girl’s mother recalls her saying. “To date I haven’t been able to give it to her.”

The family filed a human rights complaint and Edmonton Catholic Schools has tried several times since then to craft a broader policy – dealing with more than just washrooms – that protects gay and transgender students while falling in line with the church.

READ MORE: Edmonton Catholic struggles to create LGBT policy

The girl’s mother said the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting is more than what she was expecting, but added that enough is enough. She is calling on the education minister to implement a province-wide policy.

“I’m not going to hold my breath,” said the mother, who has asked her name not be used to protect her child’s identity. “As to moving forward, we clearly saw how dysfunctional this board is working together.”

“While some schools, both public and Catholic, have had positive efforts I think it’s time for the minister to step in.”

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Panas called Tuesday’s meeting a “painful” experience.

“It’s unfortunate that it took nine months to get to the first reading of a one page document, but I guess we are a little bit forward,” Panas said.

Trustee Marilyn Bergstra was elected chair after Tuesday’s meeting. She said she appreciated the dialogue at the meeting and believes the policy they’re creating has substance to it. Bergstra doesn’t see a need for the province to step in.

“I think we took a big step forward tonight, I really do,” said Bergstra. “As you can see everyone was from different ends of the spectrum and I believe that we came out with something that’s a great start.”

The province’s education minister intervened after the board’s meeting in September. Several trustees were called to a closed-door meeting with David Eggen at the legislature, where he warned there could be consequences if board members “didn’t get their act together.”

Board chairwoman Debbie Engel has admitted creating a policy is an “emotionally charged issue,” but has expressed confidence one can be developed similar to one adopted by Edmonton Public Schools a few years ago.

Information from the public consultation will be brought forward to the next board meeting on Nov. 24.

With files from Jessica Kent, Global News and The Canadian Press.


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