Over the past several weeks, many of you have contacted me to find out about my next steps to support transgender students in the province. Indeed, the fight to ensure that no student in Alberta faces discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity continues.
As trustees, we have a responsibility to ensure that all children and staff are protected and have safe and caring schools in which to learn and work. We also have an obligation to ensure that our respective districts have the appropriate resources and capacity to support children accordingly.
On November 16, 2015, with the unanimous support of my board colleagues, I presented the following emergent motion on behalf of the Edmonton Public School Board at the Alberta School Board’s Association’s (ASBA) Fall General Meeting: “that ASBA support its member school boards in establishing and maintaining welcoming, inclusive, safe and healthy learning and working environments for all members of the school community, including sexual orientation and gender minority students, staff and families. This includes provision of support with policy development and related resources.”
In the end, despite a close vote and an overwhelming majority of school districts representing more than two thirds of the students voting in favor with the desire to discuss provincial supports for LGBTQ students, the motion was defeated.
There is a clear need and urgency for ASBA to take a position on the issue of the protection of the fundamental human rights of children. While the Minister of Education has set a March 31 deadline for school boards in the province to develop a comprehensive Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Policy that adheres to current guidelines under Bill 7 and Bill 10, some boards simply do not have the capacity and resources to carry out the necessary work.
Fundamental human rights is not an issue that should be politicized – that is why I am calling again on ASBA to develop a policy and a clear position to guide and support its member boards in the important work ahead. A transgender student moving from one area of the province to another should reasonably expect the same supports and protection. Sadly, only 11 of 61 school boards in Alberta have a standalone SOGI policy. ASBA in the past 5 years alone has developed policies on defibrillators and oil wells and yet has chosen to remain silent on Bill 10 and the support of LGBTQ students.
This December 10th and 11th, ASBA has another opportunity to show leadership on this issue at their Board of Directors meeting when a directive for action asking for guidelines to support member boards on developing a SOGI policy will be brought forward for consideration. (See item C.5.1 in board agenda link below)
At first blush, this may not seem like a bad idea. However, a directive for action is not a binding, permanent policy position and cannot guide the work of the organization over the long term. Absent a policy position, it will be difficult for the ASBA to take a principled approach. Only a policy by the organization can result in the necessary follow-through and inspire meaningful dialogue from its members. At this juncture, a directive of action is simply not an adequate response by ASBA. According to the bylaws of the ASBA, the Board of Directors is empowered to create a policy on this issue, so long as it is ratified at the next general meeting. The choice to act then is not a question of procedure, but of political will.
Finally, I remain hopeful that trustees from across the province will ultimately unite on the issue of protecting LGBTQ children and that we will be on the right side of history. At the ASBA Board of Directors meeting this Thursday and Friday, I will be amending the proposed directive for action and ask that ASBA develop a clear and comprehensive policy position.
As this is a public meeting, I invite you to attend and will keep you appraised of any new developments.
Link to the ASBA Board of Directors agenda:
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org