EDMONTON – A proposal for the Alberta School Boards Association to create a policy to protect all LGBTQ students and staff in Alberta was voted down Monday.
Alberta school boards are in Edmonton for their annual meeting and Edmonton Public was set to propose an “emergent resolution,” but the issue for debate was voted down.
The Edmonton Public School Board wanted to add the policy to the conference agenda. In order for that to appen, two thirds of the more than 60 boards had to vote in favour.
It was close, but in the end, the motion was defeated.
Thirty-nine boards – or 62 per cent – voted in favour, including Edmonton Public and Catholic boards. But, 66 per cent was needed.
Twenty-four boards – or 38 per cent – did not feel the LGBTQ debate was an emergent issue.
“We’re shocked,” said Edmonton Public School Board Chair Michael Janz. “The minister gave clear direction to school boards that he expected policy to be enacted in the next four months.”
“We can’t think of a possibly more emergent issue right now in the province in education. This has been an international news story.”
One board that voted against the motion told Global News it is not against the policy, but already has one that protects all students and staff.
LGBTQ advocates say it’s a major blow.
“I’m really concerned by the boards that voted against this motion,” said Dr. Kristopher Wells, with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. “Why don’t they see this as an issue that should be part of public discussion for a public Alberta School Boards Association? What are they afraid of?
“The silence is speaking overwhelmingly from the Alberta School Boards Association.”
“They refuse to speak up on Bill 10, they refuse to speak up in support of gay-straight alliances, and today, they refuse to speak up in support of LGBTQ students,” added Wells.
Wells asked what will happen to school boards who do not meet the education minister’s policy deadline?
The president of the ASBA said it has helped school boards navigate an inclusive policy. In a statement Monday, the association said:
“While a procedural debate to place a motion on the order paper was not successful at its Fall General Meeting today, immediately following the procedural debate a directive from the floor was introduced to specifically address LGBTQ+ issues. A directive for action is a formal process that asks the board to take action.”
“Today’s directive for action reaffirms and enhances ASBA’s policy statement that all students should be provided with welcoming, caring, respectful, safe and healthy learning environments,” said Helen Clease, ASBA president.
“ASBA’s current policy is over-arching and does not expressly name any specific group of vulnerable students. The directive for action makes specific reference to issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity.”
“Our mandate is to support school boards in the development of their own policy,” Clease added. “This directive highlights the importance of that work following a request from the minister of education that all school boards provide him with details on their policies, regulations and guidelines supporting LGBTQ+ students.”
ASBA Manager Scott McCormack clarified the association helps school boards develop the policy they chose, including whether or not they want LGBTQ students and staff specifically mentioned.
“School boards tell us what policy development support they need and we will absolutely include that language if that is what they ask. We have been doing this already. We have issued a policy advisory about safe, caring, healthy learning environments and updated recently to include amendments to the School Act from Bill 10.”
Education Minister David Eggen has given a March deadline to boards to develop a LGBTQ policy. He is scheduled to speak at the conference Tuesday.
In 2012, the ASBA rejected a similar proposal from the EPBS on sexual orientation and gender identity. More than 60 per cent of school boards voted against the proposal.
In 2011, the EPSB became the first school board in Alberta to pass a sexual orientation and gender identity policy.
“Our policies need to be inclusive of all students,” said Ralph Wohlgemuth, a trustee with Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools.
“I’m a believer that by identifying certain groups you sometimes run the risk of alienating others. So, from that perspective, my preference is to have it all-inclusive.”
“My opposition to this as an emergent issue is not an opposition to boards putting whatever they want into those policies as long as all of those students are supported,” Wohlgemuth added.
The Edmonton Public School Board also wanted to debate a motion to be able to opt out of ASBA membership. That was also defeated.
With files from Kendra Slugoski, Global News