Minister of Education responds to Open Letter

Thank you to the over 2200 people who showed their support for the “Open Letter to Mr. David Eggen, Minister of Education” in the 10 days since it was posted publicly on Facebook.  The letter was widely circulated with nearly 500 shares, making it obvious that the message resonated with many Albertans.

I appreciate that the Minister of Education sent a reply earlier today, which I have included below.

Minister Eggen’s response does offer some clarity on the role of the guidelines, specifying that it is a “resource” that is “not legally binding”. He also acknowledges that “each school community is unique and that school authorities are in the best position to create policies that will work for their students, staff and families. In addition to consulting the guidelines, school authorities are encouraged to engage with their communities as they seek to align their policies and procedures with legislation and with their own local context.”

This response is a reminder to all parents and members of the public of the importance of being engaged with the issues at the local level. We need to attend school board meetings and talk with our trustees in person, through emails and phone calls. It is important we make our concerns known, whether on this issue or any other one. School board policies need to reflect the people they serve.

Furthermore, we must all continue to be vigilant and informed about government directives and initiatives in order to ensure a balance of voices are represented that are reflective of the diversity of perspectives in our province.

I encourage everyone to read Minister Eggen’s response for yourself and use this information as you continue to advocate about this issue, whether provincially or locally. If you have any further questions or concerns regarding his reply, please feel free to contact the provincial government directly using the phone number provided at the end of his response.

Most sincerely, thank you again for your involvement in this advocacy approach. Please continue to speak up and have your voice heard on this very important issue.

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March 15, 2016

Dear Mrs. Ng:

Thank you for your March 5, 2016 letter sharing your concerns regarding our government’s efforts to ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, staff and family members feel safe and supported within all of Alberta’s schools.

I was sorry to hear that you felt bullied by some of the comments posted on Twitter in response to your #ProtectABkids campaign. I am aware of the goals of your campaign, and I am pleased to provide the following information, which I believe addresses your concerns.

All school boards in Alberta must comply with applicable legislation, including the School Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.

When the Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act became law in December 2015, it added gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights Act.

The School Act was also recently changed in order to ensure all students have a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment. As a result of the Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children, formerly Bill 10, the School Act now requires school authorities to allow students to form groups that promote a safe and caring school. These groups may include diversity clubs, social justice clubs or gay-straight alliances/queer-straight alliances (GSAs/QSAs).

As you know, in November, I wrote to all Alberta school authorities setting out my expectations for policy and regulations or procedures that address the responsibilities of school authorities to ensure each student and staff member is provided with a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging. I asked that policies and procedures specifically address school authorities’ responsibilities as they relate to the LGBTQ community, and that boards share their policies with me by March 31, 2016.

All school authorities are expected to create the necessary policies to ensure compliance with the amended School Act and other legislation. These policies are about supporting students, teachers and families in each and every one of our schools.

In response to requests from school authorities, Alberta Education created a set of guidelines to help school authorities develop their policies and comply with amended legislation. The goal is to support LGBTQ students in order to help ensure all students are given a safe and caring learning environment.

These guidelines were created as a resource to be used by educators as they work to accommodate their students and are not legally binding.

While the guidelines focus specifically on supporting LGBTQ students, Alberta Education has a wide variety of resources available to support safe and caring schools at education.alberta.ca/safe-and-caring-schools.

I realize that each school community is unique and that school authorities are in the best position to create policies that will work for their students, staff and families. In addition to consulting the guidelines, school authorities are encouraged to engage with their communities as they seek to align their policies and procedures with legislation and with their own local context.

Alberta Education is working closely with school authorities, including faith-based schools, to support and address their questions. The policies being developed by school authorities will follow the law, but should also reflect local school community needs.

Parents and families are the most important supports a student can have to help ensure that they learn and achieve. School authority policies do not impact the Alberta Bill of Rights, which states that parents have the right to make informed decisions respecting the education of their children.

I understand that concerns have been raised about schools not providing parents with information about their child’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. What the guidelines suggest is that before this information is shared with parents, the school should, where possible, have the student’s permission to do so.

It is important to consider that some LGBTQ students may not have disclosed their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression beyond the school community for a variety of reasons, including safety. For this reason, school authorities may make decisions on a case-by-case basis about what is in the best interest of the student.

In regard to your concern about the guideline suggesting students should be able to access washrooms that correspond with their gender identity and that non-gendered washrooms be available, schools are advised to have strategies to ensure all areas of the school are safe for students and that privacy is maintained for all. There are a number of existing approaches being used in Alberta schools that put the safety of students at the forefront while also providing accommodation for those with diverse gender identities and gender expressions.

I trust this information is helpful, and I appreciate you sharing your comments and concerns. If you have additional questions regarding the legislative requirements for school authorities, I encourage you to contact Alberta Education’s Field Services Sector at 780‑427‑6272.

Sincerely,
David Eggen
Minister

PDF file: 2016.03.15 Response from Minister of Education to Open Letter

 

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2 comments

  1. Arelys

    I am going to feel better if there is a bathroom for any kid who is moving to the opposite gender as in my case I will not be OK with my daughters exposed to male genitalia and also this letter still allows the teacher to decide on informing the parents or not I dont know how a 5 year old is going to give consent they do not know thats why they always need to be with adults in school or at home.

    Like

  2. Ron Voss

    The Minister’s expression of being “sorry” for the hateful tweets fall into the category of a “non-apology apology”. Thus saying, “I was sorry to hear that you felt bullied by some of the comments posted on Twitter in response to your #ProtectABkids campaign” rather than “I was sorry to hear that you were bullied by some of the comments posted on Twitter”.
    While the Minister refers to the guidelines as a “resource” that is “not legally binding”, note, on the other hand, that, “In addition to consulting the guidelines, school authorities are encouraged to engage with their communities as they seek to align their policies and procedures with legislation and with their own local context”, “The policies being developed by school authorities will follow the law”, and “All school boards in Alberta must comply with applicable legislation”. “Follow the law” and “comply with applicable legislation”. What law? What legislation? Note the Minister saying, “When the Alberta Human Rights Amendment Act became law in December 2015, it added gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination under the Alberta Human Rights Act.” Thus, the driver is Bill 7, passed in December 2015 by all Alberta parties, a Bill supposedly intended to prohibit discrimination against transgender people, which amended the Alberta Human Rights Act by striking out “gender” and substituting “gender, gender identity, gender expression”. So while the Minister may say that the guidelines are “not legally binding”, to borrow from Porgy and Bess, “It Ain’t Necessarily So”!
    And the Minister saying, “school authorities may make decisions on a case-by-case basis about what is in the best interest of the student” with respect to not providing parents with information about their child’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, essentially reaffirms that the state assumes the role of primary caregivers and decision makers in a child’s education.

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