EDMONTON – Alberta’s education minister told all school boards in the province they have until April to develop inclusive LGBTQ policies in accordance with the School Act or ensure their current policies align with it.
In a letter sent to school boards on Thursday, David Eggen said every board’s policy must ensure schools are welcoming, caring, respectful and safe for all students.
“It is important to specifically address the board’s responsibility as it relates to the LGBTQ community,” Eggen wrote.
“All students deserve a safe and respectful learning environment and to be treated with respect and dignity…Our government is committed to supporting safe, caring and inclusive schools for all students, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
Scroll down to read the minister’s letter in full.
All schools are also required to let students create Gay-Straight Alliances.
“This expectation around Section 16.1 does not mean that we are anticipating that every school will have an alliance. It is meant to ensure that every board has a policy and regulation or procedure in place should a student request that an alliance be established in his or her school,” explained Eggen.
The letter went out to all chairs of public, separate, francophone and charter schools in Alberta. Eggen requested all boards get back to him with their policy by March 31, 2016.
The move comes after the Edmonton Catholic Board tried to tackle the issue of gender identity and inclusion in September.
Last spring, a mother filed a human rights complaint after her seven-year-old transgender daughter was not allowed to use the girls’ washroom and was told to use the gender-neutral one.
The school board worked on a gender expression and identity policy, but a board meeting in September to discuss it dissolved into yelling and the topic was put off until the following month.
That decision prompted a local transgender advocate Marni Panas to call on the 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.
The province later appointed an expert advisor to work with Edmonton Catholic Schools to improve board governance.
A few years ago, Edmonton Public Schools became the first on the Prairies to develop a stand-alone sexual orientation and gender-identity policy. It lets students use the washroom and locker room that matches their self-identified gender.
Minister David Eggen’s letter to Alberta school boards:
“All students deserve a safe and respectful learning environment and to be treated with respect and dignity. Learning environments must respect diversity and foster a sense of belonging. Our government is committed to supporting safe, caring and inclusive schools for all students, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
In keeping with this commitment, it is my expectation that your board, as part of your responsibility under Section 45.1 of the School Act, will create the necessary policies or ensure that your current policies align with the letter and the intent of the legislation.
I will be looking for policy and regulations or procedures that address the board’s responsibility to ensure that each student enrolled in a school operated by the board and each staff member employed by the board is provided with a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging. It is important to specifically address the board’s responsibility as it relates to the LGBTQ community.
I am requesting that you share this policy with me, together with the required regulations or procedures, by March 31, 2016.
As part of my review, I will also be looking for evidence of policy and regulations or procedures related specifically to Section 16.1 of the School Act and the support for the establishment of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and queer-straight alliances (QSAs). This expectation around Section 16.1 does not mean that we are anticipating that every school will have an alliance. It is meant to ensure that every board has a policy and regulation or procedure in place should a student request that an alliance be established in his or her school.
My staff will be in further contact with you in the near future to provide more guidance about the content I expect to see covered by your policies and regulations or procedures.
Our students are our most precious resource, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure they are successful and contributing members of our society.”