By Nikki Jamieson
The first draft of the Horizon School Board’s policy on Sexual Identity and Orientation is ready for feedback.
The HSB performed the first reading of Policy IHG, or Respecting Human Rights: LGBQT, during their monthly meeting on Feb. 23. It will be cross-referenced with policies IFC, Student Conduct, and IHF, Welcoming Caring, Respectful and Safe Learning Environments. The aim of this policy is to fulfill the board’s legal requirement on protecting LGBQT staff and students, as mandated under the School Act and the Alberta Human Rights Act.
“Most people are aware that in June of 2015, Bill 10 came forward and modified the School Act. In November of 2015, the minister of education (David Eggen) came directly to the school boards, (and said) that you need to follow through and update policies to align with new legislation,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent for HSB.
The policy is based on the 12 guidelines listed in the Best Practices document, which was released this last January to much controversy. Amoung the guidelines were suggestions for dress codes, providing safe access to washroom and changing rooms, extra-circular activities and ensuring an environment free of harassment.
“We are really working on respecting the rights and dignity of individuals, all individuals,” said Tymensen. “We try to ground it in some of the guidelines, but it’s important to recognize that the guidelines are just that; they’re guidelines, and are not the be all and end all of what is expected from the province.”
In it’s current form, it is a three page document that includes sections pertaining specifically towards principals, staff and gender identity and gender expression.
“It also talks about the idea that we very much will address everything on a case-by-case basis. We recognize that no one solution will be the solution for every single situation. So really, when issues come forward, we address them in a collaborative venture, where those who are involved are part of the solution.”
For instance, each school should have at least one staff member that can counsel or advise students with questions, concerns or are in need of support, in regards to sexual orientation or diverse gender. While not everyone may be comfortable answering these questions, they should, at the very least, be able to point to someone who can.
Another part of the policy is the use of names and pronouns. Tymensen joked that it took him till he was in high school to spell his legal name, as it was 45 letters long, so he always went by Wilco. The practice of going by preferred names is already in place, so there is not much change on that front. However, he stressed that a person’s legal name will be on all official documentation, and a legal name change will be required for Alberta Education to change that.
“We already have (preferred names) in our schools, so this is really no different. If we have a student going by a common name, and that’s the name they use on a daily basis, then we should respect that.” said Tymensen. “It’s important to recognize, that legal Alberta Education documents, so your High School Diploma, will have your legal name on it, even if you don’t want it… We already respect students and families desires for names and informal names, it’s important to recognize your legal name will be on your legal documentation from Alberta Education.”
Eggen has asked that school boards get their policies to him by the end of March. However, due to the timing of the March board meeting, it would only provide a few weeks of consultation. Depending on the level of concerns, questions or suggestions that arise from them, the policy might have to be completely overhauled, leading to the question if they could have it ready on time.
Board members debated whether they should ask the minister if they could have another couple of weeks. That way they would have enough time to make changes, in case thy get so much feedback they have to overhaul the entire policy. Another suggestion was to have a special meeting at the end of the month to do the reading.
“He’s (Eggen) got boards across this province that are saying no to everything,” said Bruce Francis, vice-chair of HSB.
An offer was made to make an inquiry into extending the deadline, and, depending on the level of feedback, they would go from there.
“The big concern is the notion that parents are suddenly out of the loop,” said Tymensen. “Certainly a concern that’s come forward is this notion that anyone can go into any bathroom and their child’s safety is at risk. I would say no, cause we have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of all kids.”
“When kids come to school, when parents send their kids to school, parents should feel comfortable and reassured that their kids are going to be safe under our influence and control, and that’s all kids. And that’s what everybody in the room is trying to achieve.”
HSB will be having a policy open-house on March 8, at 6:30 p.m. in the W.R. Myers gymnasium.