Public Interest Alberta and Dr. Kris Wells graded the sexual orientation and gender identity policies at four Alberta schools submitted to the ministry of education. The results showed inconsistency among the schools, with grades ranging from A+ to an “embarrassing and inappropriate” policy that earned an F.
Red Deer Public School District No. 104 received top marks while Greater St. Albert Roman Catholic Separate School District No. 734 received a failing grade.
Lethbridge Public School District No. 51 was given a B grade and Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools got a D.
“Not all policies are created equal,” Wells said. “This geographic sample of policies shows that the measures boards have put in place to protect students range from A+ to F.
“Policies like the one from the Red Deer Public School Board should serve as a model for others to follow. In contrast, the policy from the St. Albert Catholic School Board includes a call to chastity as a solution. It’s embarrassing and inappropriate in 2016.
“Many other elements of this policy are also deeply concerning and may contravene government legislation,” he said.
Wells stressed all students, no matter where they live or what school they attend, should feel safe and supported.
David Keohane, superintendent of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, said he’s disappointed with the review and wants to request a re-assessment. He said it didn’t include the board’s overall policy that meets the government’s requirements and dictates: “No student should be discriminated on the basis of race, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” Keohane said of the policy, “and that diversity is the way of our schools.”
He said PIA and Wells didn’t look at the bigger picture when grading schools.
Keohane said he’s most upset the report card claimed the school board’s policy couldn’t be accessed.
“You can put our school jurisdiction title in Google, you can put keywords in and the first thing that comes up in Google is policies.”
He also described the evaluation as unfair.
“I’m not sure what point is trying to be made when there is a report card made but the evaluator has either been sloppy, has either been incomplete, and has clearly has given us the short shrift in terms of fairness and understanding how we’re going to take care of students on September 1, which will be to embrace the needs of all students.”
Keohane said he met with staff last week and reviewed all policies and how they’d be implemented in the classroom with district principals.
“I’m going to give our district an A+.”
He said the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board responded to the ministry’s deadline, submitted their polices and was told it did a thorough job. He said any student that asks to form a gay-straight alliance will absolutely be allowed to create one and call it that.
“I simply think that we are set up well to continue to do the good work that we’ve done in arguably one of the most inclusive school systems in the province,” Keohane said.
In November 2015, Alberta’s education minister told all 61 school boards in the province to develop inclusive LGBTQ policies in accordance with the School Act or ensure their current policies align with it. In August, David Eggen wrote an open letter to LGBTQ students, saying “I’m with you 100 per cent.”
Bill 10, An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect our Children, passed third reading in March 2015. The bill made the approval of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) mandatory in Alberta schools.
The PIA evaluated the four schools’ policies based on six criteria:
- Was its policy available and easily accessible to the public?
- Does it comply with provincial legislation (Bill 10 and Alberta’s human rights legislation) including specific protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression AND includes support for students to start a gay-straight alliance and name it that?
- Does it address the needs of sexual and gender minority (LGBTQ) students, families and staff?
- Does it contain specific supports for transgender and non-binary students (including clear provisions for washrooms, student records, athletics, locker rooms, field trips, etc)?
- Does it protect student confidentiality and privacy?
- Does it not impose any special requirements or constraints (parental permission/notification not required to attend a GSA and GSAs are not subject to special requirements or approvals that aren’t applied to other student clubs)?
“For example, some policies limited a student’s right to create a GSA to certain grade levels, which is not in the government’s legislation,” Wells said, “or required the principal to approve speakers of the club or materials or activities of the club in advance.”
The report cards also included a section for notes where Wells, an assistant professor in the University of Alberta’s department of educational policy studies, could explain the grading.
“We found most policies only focus on students, very few include staff and even fewer include LGBTQ families,” Wells said. “We know, particularly when it comes to staff members, LGBTQ teachers are still being fired from their jobs here in Alberta in 2016.
“We also wanted to ensure that policies did not refer to students as being broken, disordered, damaged, or in need of a cure or to be repaired or fixed,” he explained.
“Boards with inadequate policies must take urgent action to revise them so there is no question about student safety regardless of where a student goes to school in the province,” Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta said.
“Patchwork policies leave LGBTQ students and teachers at risk of discrimination. If some school boards are unwilling to provide these basic protections for students and staff, the provincial government may need to put those protections into legislation.”
Public Interest Alberta also urged Alberta Education to ensure all policies, procedures, or regulations submitted by school boards are made public by either posting them on the government of Alberta website or making sure all school boards post them prominently on their own websites.
Brian Coldwell, who is chair of the New Testament Baptist Church – which operates two Christian schools in Edmonton – won’t comply with Alberta’s LGBTQ policy.
“We reserve the right as Christian school boards to approach social issues, children at risk and certainly these complex moral issues from a distinctly Christian perspective,” he said.
Coldwell said his schools have never had bullying issues. He believes Bill 10 and its requirements are an attack on parental rights and religious freedoms.
“To be able to come into religious institutions, Christian schools, churches and demand that they can set up their GSA clubs and have a platform to advance what I would call anti-Christian, hostile liberal, secular values that really undermine our Christian faith.”
Coldwell wants to see Bill 10 amended.
“It’s culture change,” he said. “It’s trying to impose the gay activist rainbow ideology, if you will – that’s really the hidden agenda here.”
“If a student doesn’t agree with our statement of faith, and our Christian moral values and so forth, then they have the option of attending many other schools – secular schools, non-religious schools.”
The education minister issued this statement in response:
“All schools will follow the law. Comments made by the individual in question reflect why we have had to take the action we have to date,” Eggen said. “That being said, we do have some options at our disposal if schools do not comply, and we will be assessing these as we move forward. Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our students.”