False Assurances Not Enough: Open Letter to Minister of Education

April 14, 2016

Dear Minister Eggen,

Allow me to refresh your memory.

On April 7th you made the following comments as part of a Ministerial Statement in the Legislative Assembly, referring to sexual orientation and gender identity policies in Alberta schools:
Eggen Ministerial picture
“We know that our work is far from over, as we now review the policies and discuss their contents with our school leaders. We will also work in the months ahead with students, parents and teachers to support and educate each other…”

“I hope each and every one of us will do our part to educate others in the spirit of peace and understanding, that we will reassure parents that they have been and always will be invited to be involved in all aspects of their children’s education. And working together we will be able to protect and nurture all of our children in the province of Alberta and we will be the stronger for it, all of us standing together.”

Excuse me?

How can you claim that parents “have been and always will be invited to be involved in all aspects of their children’s education”?

Perhaps you best re-read your Guidelines document. Or peruse through the tens of thousands of letters and emails sent to your office over the past several months that have voiced concerns and opposition.

While my first Open Letter outlined several concerns, this public letter will focus on just one: parental involvement.

Since the March 31st deadline has passed, we no longer need to hypothetically discuss “non-binding” Guidelines. We now have the benefit of examining real policies and regulations that will definitively impact our children and families.

Let’s take Calgary Board of Education (CBE) as an example. As per your “best practices”, the CBE trustees voted unanimously to pass regulations which intentionally specify withholding sensitive information from the parents of K-12 children, except when a student provides permission.

Here is an excerpt from their “Guidelines for Attending to Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sexual Orientation in our Schools” (page 5-39):

“Given the sensitivity related to one’s gender identity and sexual orientation, should a student disclose that they are a sexual or gender minority to a CBE [Calgary Board of Education] staff member, the information should be held in confidence. Unless a student provides permission to share this information, the staff member should not disclose this information to anyone else, including other staff members and parents/guardians.”

Minister Eggen, how exactly are parents “involved in all aspects of their children’s education” when they are intentionally excluded?

You speak of “standing together”. Does that mean you will stand with the 4800 concerned Calgary parents and electors who signed a petition according to specific provisions in the School Act in order to demand changes to Calgary Board of Education’s policy?

In the “spirit of peace and understanding” will you personally oversee that process to ensure their concerns are addressed and that trustees are held accountable to those they are democratically elected to represent?

And how exactly do teachers feel about being enlisted and “voluntold” that their duties now include the role of private confidante to K-12 children regarding student sexuality?

You and I have both worked as teachers in the classroom and know firsthand the massive, overwhelming workload burdening teachers. In fact, the Alberta Teachers’ Association just released research last week clearly demonstrating how teachers are already pressured to work many additional hours beyond a “regular” school day.

I find it shocking that you are willing to sacrifice the lives of our vulnerable children into the already strained, overburdened school context reflected in this latest research.

We know a child’s resilience and success are strengthened when all stakeholders – parents, student, teacher, administrators and any necessary medical professionals – engage in open, thoughtful dialogue. This applies to all students. In my teaching experience this was always the approach – to strengthen parent engagement, not diminish it. And when there is any suspected risk of harm to a student then teachers must always, always recognize the limits of their expertise and have a professional, legal obligation to refer on to the appropriate authorities.

Shouldn’t school staff be alarmed with school board policies that intentionally compromise such an important collaborative approach? Aren’t there red flags when K-12 students and staff engage in any private conversations related to sexuality?

It is a fundamental principle enshrined in both Alberta’s Education Act (sec 32) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 26): parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Albertans must remember that democratic rights and freedoms are like muscles. They atrophy when not exercised. Our freedom to raise our families as we best see fit is in peril when schools withhold information and politicians manipulate our education system to impose their own beliefs.

Alberta’s elected officials need a reminder of who is in charge, especially when it comes to the care and protection of our own children within Alberta’s publicly funded education system. Elected officials are hired by Albertans to represent our concerns. Our taxes pay their salaries. Parents invite them to support the education of Alberta children, not the other way around.

In a democracy, let’s not forget our roles.

Minister Eggen, I applaud the intentions you communicated on April 7th to “work in the months ahead with students, parents and teachers to support and educate each other”.

So, Minister Eggen, let us arrange a time to meet in-person so we have an opportunity to “support and educate each other”.

Our small group of parent representatives expect a minimum of 2 hours of your time. And, in the interests of ensuring a balance of perspectives on the issue, we request that the same MLAs who attended your recent luncheon with students will also be in attendance for our meeting.

Your response is respectfully requested within the next 21 days, meaning that prior to May 5th we expect a reply from your office to arrange an appointment. Given that this is a time-sensitive issue we ask that you make every effort to provide a meeting date in the month of May or June.

On behalf of concerned parents and members of the voting public across Alberta, I look forward working together with you in order to protect and nurture all children and families in the province of Alberta.

Please note this open letter has been shared publicly online. Today I will also send a copy of this letter to your office, through the postal system and over email.

Sincerely,
Theresa Ng
Co-organizer of the #protectABkids Twitter Campaign
Author of Informed Albertans

P.S. For further reading, here are excerpts from a message I received from someone asking to remain anonymous:

I am an Alberta parent, and also a teacher. As such, I cannot go on record publicly, for a multitude of reasons. Please don’t use my name, but feel free to use any of these points in the upcoming days, or to post pieces of this anonymously.

Let’s say a teacher encounters a child struggling with their gender identity (or struggling in any other way!). Should they:

1) speak with the parents, and refer the child and family to a PROFESSIONAL counsellor with experience and credentials or

2) set up the child with a random adult who may possibly have an agenda but no professional credentials, in a club of some sort, and do so WITHOUT informing the parent?!!

Which is responsible? Which is ethical? More important, which fulfills the teacher’s role as being “in loco parentis”, upon which education in our free society is built? I think it’s fairly obvious!

If this isn’t dealt with, Alberta parents will wake up 5 years from now and wonder why they gave away their parental rights for the sake of political correctness.

Do we really have such little faith in Alberta’s parents? This government is selling the idea that all Alberta’s kids must be protected from their OWN PARENTS!!! And they’re about to GET AWAY with it!!

We here in Alberta have no need of government to protect us from ourselves. Our free, democratic society relies on an educated, informed electorate. We, the people of Alberta, are in charge, of our kids, and our lives. It needs to stay that way, if we value our way of life.

David Eggen says his guidelines will save lives. I say that his guidelines will anger parents and undermine democracy. Perhaps a few kids credit clubs for helping their self esteem, and there are many emotional stories being told right now to sway this issue. It’s true that kids are often badly bullied in school, for gender issues among other things. However, we should not be removing parental rights due to emotional rhetoric. The fact remains that teachers in a free society answer to the parents. PERIOD. Every good teacher knows this.

Referring children to professionals is absolutely more effective and wise than exposing children to strangers without parental consent. I think these guidelines are a slap in the face to every Alberta parent. We should be angry. I know I am! I’m livid!

Please continue this battle. I believe most teachers would rather not step into the parent’s role. (Though it’s tempting, sometimes, and apparently, right now, teachers need to be called out on it.) Parents across the province need to be at meetings saying “Don’t you DARE take my place!” Boards need to be told to reject these guidelines and take them back to the drawing board.

It’s absolutely essential that people speak out. I was in your shoes just a couple years ago (home with my littles!) and if I still was, I’d step right into the fray beside you. I wish I could. I can’t make public statements, but I am behind you 1000%.

———————

Dear Albertans, If you agree with the message of this Open Letter, please publicly show your support by visiting our Facebook event and press “going”: https://www.facebook.com/events/214346208941420/

Please note this event is not at a physical location, but more like an online virtual rally.

By clicking “going”, you will publicly demonstrate our numbers and help strengthen our collective voice in the hope that our concerns and request will be addressed by Minister Eggen and the Alberta government.

Thank you for your support.

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2 comments

  1. Ron Voss

    Excellent letter, Theresa. During his Ministerial Statement Eggen also took the time to applaud the contribution of the “tireless efforts of so many LGBTQ community members and advocates”, many of whom were in the gallery. So, when he said “We know that our work is far from over”, I would take that as a clear signal that he is not willing to back down on his position (that would be betrayal of his friends and allies) or listen to parents who oppose his ‘guidelines’. It will be interesting, nonetheless, to see if he would deem to meet with “a small group of parent representatives”.

    Like

  2. Shirley Friesen

    All I can say is we must keep up our rejection to bill10 untell some one in parlement lessons and they stop BULLING the public, instead of telling every one they are doing this to stop bulling. They can not keep talking out of both sides of there mouth.

    Like

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