2 concerns over GSA Bill 24 raised by Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association
The current law in Alberta leaves it up to teachers to determine if parents should be informed of a child’s membership in a GSA. Bill 24 would require they get permission from the child.
The ACSTA said it believes the overall goal of protecting vulnerable students is commendable and is in support of a “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment.”
However, it said “after careful consultation, we believe there are two areas of Bill 24 which could have unintended consequences and require clarification.”
LISTEN: ACSTA says Bill 24 is in conflict with current FOIP rules
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Concern #1: erosion of local school board autonomy
The association believes the bill could diminish the role of governing bodies such as school boards – some of which it represents – and superintendents.
“We feel that Bill 24 puts undo pressure on the school principal to be, in effect, the sole decision maker who is only accountable to the Minister of Education, bypassing long entrenched best practices and chains of authority as outlined in the School Act,” the association said in a statement released Monday. (Scroll down to read the full letter.)
The ACSTA said while inclusion clubs are welcome in all Catholic schools, “the requirement to immediately approve of any activity without the opportunity for a principal to evaluate the broader context in which the activity is held and its potential impact on a school culture and community unduly transfers decision making to students.”
Concern #2: Bill 24’s effect on parent – school relationships
The second concern was around how the legislation would affect the parent – school relationship. Bill 24 would make it illegal for teachers to tell parents if their child has joined a GSA.
The ACSTA said research shows students are more likely to succeed if their parents are involved and active in their education, and said a “blanket refusal to communicate information to parents without some assessment of the child’s best interest in a particular circumstance should be avoided.”
The association also said the bill would conflict with existing FOIPP rules and is asking for clarification.
READ MORE: So, what exactly is a Gay Straight Alliance?
Students and supporters say GSA privacy is essential
However, many students say the clubs are important for those who are not ready to come out or don’t feel safe talking to their parents.
On Monday afternoon, Education David Eggen responded to the ACSTA’s concerns.
“Our government has made it very clear that no child will be outed. We know that parents play an extremely important in role in their children’s lives and we are not doing anything to diminish that,” Eggen said.
“We just want students to come out to their friends and family when they are ready to, and we know that GSAs and QSAs help in this very important process.”
Edmonton Public School Board trustee Michael Janz is putting forward a motion for all school boards across the province to support GSA’s and Bill 24.
“This has been a major election issue and a topic of conversation throughout the summer and fall, about ‘What is the role of a of a GSA?’ Should parents be automatically notified if their children join?
“And we want to send a message that absolutely not, these are peer support clubs designed to keep kids safe, that in circumstances where a student may be at risk there’s already provisions in the law to protect those children,” Janz said on Monday.
Janz said if GSAs aren’t protected as a safe space, students won’t join them.
“We heard from many students in our district who said, ‘If you out me, I’ll become homeless; if you out me, many dangerous things could happen to me.'”
“These fears are very, very real. We heard them from students across our district and across Alberta. We need to make sure that wherever you are in Alberta, school trustees are sending a signal that all children will be respected and welcomed at their GSA.”
The motion will be brought forward before the Alberta School Board Association (ASBA) meeting next Monday. The motion will require the support of two-thirds of the 61 school boards in order to have the matter debated. The Edmonton Public School Board tried to bring the matter forward in 2015, but it was not added to the meeting agenda.
Bill 24 is being backed by the Alberta Teachers’ Association and SOS Alberta — a public education advocacy group which says it’s unfortunate the debate over Bill 24 is being framed as a parental rights issue.
UCP does not support Bill 24
Last week, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney announced the party would oppose Bill 24. Kenney maintains it should be up to teachers to make a judgment call on informing parents, not the province.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Vassy Kapelos this past weekend, he said the bill will effectively create a way out of the requirement for parental notification when “sensitive matters around human sexuality” are being taught in schools – that is, if they are being taught in connection with a gay-straight alliance’s activities.
The UCP’s proposed amendments would ensure the current rules around consent for teaching material dealing with human sexuality remain the same – regardless of the context – and would exclude elementary schools entirely from Bill 24. The government has rejected those proposals.
WATCH: United Party Conservative Leaders Jason Kenney talks about Alberta’s Bill 24 with The West Block’s Vassy Kapelos.
Read Below: The Alberta Catholic School Trustees letter detailing concerns over Bill 24.
— With files from Monique Scotti, Global News, and The Canadian Press
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