Privacy laws will protect LGBTQ students, UCP says as amended Education Act introduced

The Alberta government says privacy legislation will prevent LGBTQ students in gay-straight alliances from being outed, despite proposed changes in education legislation that would end protections enacted by the previous NDP government.

Bill 8, introduced Wednesday in the Alberta legislature, would amend the Education Act that was passed but never proclaimed by past Progressive Conservative governments.

The new act does not have the Bill 24 protections enacted by the NDP in the fall of 2017, which made it illegal for teachers to tell a parent if a child has joined a GSA.

The NDP said the change was made to protect students from being outed to their parents before they were comfortable discussing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Bill 8 does not include that provision. Instead, the government said the relevant privacy legislation — the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for publicly-funded schools and the Personal Information Protection Act for private schools — would protect students.

Under the bill, disclosure would only be allowed if: the school had “credible” information affecting the safety of GSA members; it was needed for law enforcement reasons; or a student was at risk of self-harm.

Students would be entitled under the bill to create “inclusion groups,” which would include GSAs and queer-straight alliances.

Bill 8 would also remove the requirement for principals to “immediately” grant student requests to form GSAs or QSAs. Students would have to appeal unacceptable delays to the school board and subsequently to the minister.

The legislation would not define timelines for when a GSA must be granted. It would also remove the required language that must appear in “safe and caring” school policies that were prescribed by the previous government.

Bill 8 would remove the caps on the number of charter schools and leave decisions solely up to the minister without a demonstration of “significant” community support.

The legislation would add several new considerations for the minister to use when approving a new charter school.  

The applicant would be required to show “collaboration or engagement” with a post-secondary institution or school division, focus on a type of learning or style of instruction not offered by the resident school division and demonstrate the school has “the potential to provide  improvements to the education system as a whole.”

The UCP government intends to keep changes made by the NDP to how superintendents are compensated, leaving approval of contracts to the minister.

If passed, the Education Act would come into force on Sept. 1.

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