All but two school boards expected to submit LGBTQ policies: Alberta government

By , on March 31, 2016

(Photo by Ludovic Bertron via Wikipedia)
(Photo by Ludovic Bertron via Wikipedia)

EDMONTON—All but two of Alberta’s 61 school boards were expected to meet a Thursday deadline to submit policies on how they plan to make schools safe and accepting of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.

Education Minister Dave Eggen said he was gratified by the response but acknowledged that the hard part comes now.

His staff must review the documents to determine if each plan complies with government legislation, and then work with boards to fix any shortcomings.

“We are dealing with a very vulnerable population,” Eggen said in an interview.

“I am very pleased to see how school boards across the province have answered to this. We look forward to looking at their policies, working with them together in a collaborative manner to ensure that no one gets left behind.”

The NDP brought in legislation that says students have the right to self identify their sexual orientation and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Guidelines state that students should be allowed to wear clothes and take part in sports and other activities according to their gender identity. Students should also have access to safe washrooms and change rooms that reflect how they see themselves.

The legislation also calls on schools to allow students to form so-called gay-straight alliance clubs if they wish.

Last fall, Eggen set March 31 as the deadline for the 61 publicly funded school boards to submit their draft polices.

On Thursday, he said the province had received policies from 55 school boards and there were more to come by the end of the day. All charter and private schools have also submitted their drafts.

The two school boards not meeting the deadline were Palliser Regional Schools and Lethbridge School District 51, both in southern Alberta.

Eggen said his department is working with those boards and expects they will submit their plans later this spring.

Some Catholic church leaders have said the LGBTQ policy would violate religious beliefs. They have said church teachings state that a person’s sexuality is a God-given gift and to alter it is to challenge divine will. They also say Catholic schools already provide safe, caring environments for all students.

Some parents have also said they are worried about allowing shared washrooms and change rooms.

Eggen said there is plenty of work ahead to achieve the government’s goal. He declined to set a date for when Alberta Education will approve the plans or when the boards must comply with the legislation.

Having so many submit their draft plans on time is a promising start, he said.

“This is an indication of the level of engagement, which I find quite hopeful, and we are there to help every step of the way to make sure that we provide a safe and caring environment for all students.

“Sometimes the things that are most difficult to achieve are the most worthwhile.”