“Recommendations” vs “Requirements”: distinction raises more questions than answers

The distinction between these 2 words is significant.  But how this distinction will be applied to the implementation of the provincial Guidelines document remains to be seen.

When it comes to the policies being developed by each of the province’s 61 school boards before the March 31 deadline, it seems what is interpreted as “recommended” and “required” from the Guidelines has become an increasingly grey area of interpretation.

Consider a response provided recently by Alberta Education to Lethbridge School District.

Lethbridge School District’s initial response to the guidelines was somewhat unique in the midst of most other districts that generally welcomed, opposed or reported they were already in compliance with the government document.

From the beginning, Lethbridge School District interpreted the guidelines as recommendations and indicated that their current draft policy on this issue, “does not address or speak to the number of “recommendations” in the government document, such as particular structures for washrooms and change rooms, or a position regarding participation on athletic teams.”   Their initial response concluded that “Parents and public members need to keep in mind that if the jurisdiction decided to explore some of these recommendations, such as changes to access to washrooms and change rooms, there would be a process in place.”

Subsequently, Lethbridge School District provided a clear outline of their procedures.  Based on their response, it seems that the release of Alberta Education’s guidelines would not trump the process and policies they already had in motion.

What is most interesting is Alberta Education’s response.

In a new update  posted on the Lethbridge School District website, it was shared how the jurisdiction requested clarification from the province on behalf of parents and members of the public who wondered whether guidelines were “required”.  Alberta Education responded with the following statement:

“School authorities are required to have policies in place that meet the requirements of the School Act and all other applicable legislation (Alberta Human Rights Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). The guidelines document was designed to provide information and resources to assist school authorities in developing and updating their policies to ensure they meet the requirement of the School Act related to safe and caring school environments. The purpose of the Guidelines document is not deemed as legal direction.”

Thus, the district has concluded that “it is left to the jurisdiction to decide how to proceed with these guidelines. They are not mandated.”

This raises an important question.

If Lethbridge is permitted to pursue the provincial document as “recommendations”, how many of the guidelines must actually be adopted into school board policy and how many guidelines may be effectively ignored without repercussions from the province?

It is an important question as contention continues to mount regarding many potential implications and concerns regarding the current wording of the Alberta Education Guidelines document.

What is obvious –  in order to resolve some of the grey area of interpretation and inform each school board’s direction on how to proceed with the provincial “recommendations”, our school officials will be highly dependent on the input they receive from the public.

Remember, each jurisdiction is accountable to the people it serves.  More than ever, it is vital to be informed and engaged in this process so you can ensure your school board is responsive to addressing the concerns you may have.

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