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Alberta education minister satisfied with Catholic school board progress on LGBTQ policy

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announces the appointment of an advisor to oversee Edmonton Catholic Schools, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015.
Alberta Education Minister David Eggen announces the appointment of an advisor to oversee Edmonton Catholic Schools, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Dave Carels, Global News

EDMONTON – Alberta’s education minister is pleased with the progress being made by the Edmonton Catholic School Board as it works to develop policy on sexual orientation and gender identity.

David Eggen met with board members at the legislature Wednesday morning to discuss the issue.

“They worked through some transgender and LGBTQ policy, which looks very good so far,” Eggen said. “They’ve done it…without the animosity and the acrimony that we may have seen before.”

During a September meeting, one trustee cried and shouted over accusations she was homophobic. Another trustee, Larry Kowalczyk, told media that he considers being transgender a mental disorder.

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

In October, Eggen appointed an expert advisor – National Growth Partners, co-led by Donald Cummings – to work with the Catholic school board on ways to improve overall board effectiveness.

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Eggen said he made the decision after it became apparent to him the Edmonton Catholic School Board must improve its practices.

READ MORE: Alberta education minister assigns advisor to oversee Edmonton Catholic School Board

The minister received an update from the advisor prior to Wednesday’s meeting with the school board.

“He said there’s still issues to work through. It’s day to day, but everyone wants to improve, and we know that the integrity of the board is essential to the more than 40,000 students that they are responsible for,” Eggen said.

“It was long overdue to have that conversation of: what do we want – as a board of seven – our governance model for Edmonton Catholic to look like?” Marilyn Bergstra, Edmonton Catholic School Board chair, said.

“I think it’s going to lead us to being a very strong board.”

READ MORE: ‘I need you to stand with me’ Alberta education minister asks school boards to support LGBTQ policy

Edmonton Catholic Schools’ proposed policy to protect gay and transgender people has passed first reading and is expected to go to a second reading at a board of trustees meeting on Dec. 1.

“There is compassion and safe and caring measures in our schools every day, but it’s when it’s in writing that you have that extra level of assurance,” Bergstra said.

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The Catholic school board chair added there has been discussion about delaying passing the second reading to make sure the policy meets the government’s standard.

The minister has given all Alberta school boards a March 2016 deadline to develop a LGBTQ policy.