Edmonton public school board urges Alberta school boards to support Bill 24

Edmonton public school trustees are calling on the Alberta School Boards Association to back proposed legislation that would protect the privacy of students who join gay-straight alliances.

The Edmonton public school board will introduce a motion at an ASBA meeting Nov. 20 to create an Alberta-wide policy  that will support the privacy of sexual orientation and gender identity students, said Trustee Michael Janz.

The board’s proposal comes after United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney said his MLAs would oppose Bill 24, the NDP government’s proposed legislation that would make it illegal for publicly funded schools to inform parents if their child joins a GSA.

Janz said  “certain comments made by politicians” have prompted many to seek clarification of what policies exist. He noted the ASBA doesn’t have any policy covering gender and sexual minority students.

“That renders the organization virtually mute on important issues like this,” he said. “The ASBA should be out front and centre in the Bill 24 debate, saying we need safe spaces for kids, and we need to keep kids safe and teachers should not be burdened with this.”

It’s not the first time the Edmonton public board has put forth a motion calling for support for LGBTQ students in the school system. The ASBA rejected  a call in 2015 to debate an LGBTQ policy, and voted down a proposed policy in 2012.

Passing the most recent motion will require the support of two-thirds of 61 school boards, including 42 public boards, 17 Catholic boards and four francophone.

Without privacy ‘a GSA is useless’

Janz said more than 30 school boards have expressed some sort of support for the latest motion.

“We know without privacy a GSA is useless because of the culture of fear that can happen, where students who are most vulnerable won’t attend if they’re worried about being outed, becoming homeless or harm being done to them,” said Janz

He said students know that those who argue for “parental choice” on joining a GSA is code for those who are uncomfortable with GSAs or gay rights.

It’s unclear just how much opposition the motion will face this time round. In a media release issued Monday, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association said while it believes the overall goal to protect vulnerable students is commendable, Bill 24 “could have unintended consequences.”

Could Bill 24 diminish role of boards?

Among other concerns, the Catholic trustees association suggested Bill 24 could diminish the role of school boards and superintendents. It could also put pressure on principals to be “the sole decision maker,” who is only accountable to the minister of education, and give the minister the power to change school board policy without consulting the board or community.

They also want to clarify whether freedom of information privacy legislation would supersede Bill 24.

“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 statement says.

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