Newsflash for Albertans:
Effective August 16th, 2016, policy decisions made by democratically elected school boards can be unilaterally usurped by a Minister of Education Facebook note.
This open letter raises questions of critical importance to all Albertans.
Consider the following:
- Minister Eggen does not have the authority to simply declare to all students in Alberta “You have the right to use the washroom that is consistent with your gender identity.”
Let’s rewind to January 2016. Alberta Education released the Guidelines document which ignited controversy across the province.
In March, Minister Eggen wrote letters to respond to the concerns voiced by tens of thousands Albertans who had contacted his office, assuring them that the Guidelines document was a “resource” and “not legally binding.”
Furthermore, he acknowledged:
“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.”
Therefore, in the absence of provincial legislation regarding bathroom policies in schools, some school boards voted to implement new bathroom protocols as per the optional “best practices” of the Guidelines document, while others engaged with their communities and responded by not implementing specific bathroom policies.
This was all done in accordance to provincial legislation, democratic process and Minister Eggen’s guidance.
Which means Minister Eggen must now clarify the content of his open letter to students:
Is Minister Eggen lying to the students he claims to wholeheartedly support 100%, by promising “rights” to them that he does not actually have the authority to provide?
Or is he lying to Albertans and creating a farce out of our province’s democratically elected school boards, who apparently no longer have authentic autonomy to withstand his arbitrary Facebook edicts?
Albertans deserve an answer.
But wait – there’s more.
2. According to the Calgary Herald article about this open letter, “Eggen added the province will also fund special training and development for teachers and staff at schools, provided through a $200,000 provincewide grant.”
It is shockingly generous of the province to pledge a new grant of almost a quarter of a million dollars at a time when our province’s economy is tanking and other vulnerable populations of students have suffered recent cutbacks.
For example, according to a June 29th Medicine Hat News article, upcoming budget cuts of over $400 000 will “severely weaken special needs supports” when it comes to hiring specialists and providing support services “for students who may have complex communication needs, visual impairments, be deaf or hard of hearing, require physiotherapy, or need mental health support”.
Superintendent of Prairie Rose School Division, Brian Andjelic, warns that “if we cut this back even further it is going to put some of those most at-risk students more at risk,” adding that his board of trustees has communicated their concerns to the Minister of Education.
Surely Minister Eggen realizes that students are at-risk across the province, for a multitude of reasons?
Why is it that one specific vulnerable population of students is worthy of generous financial provisions and a special direct government support line, while other vulnerable populations are simultaneously suffering from cutbacks to their support?
Albertans deserve an answer.
Which brings me to one final concern for today.
3. Who will be the experts employed by the $200 000 of provincial grant money for teacher training and professional development?
Almost every article describing Minister Eggen’s Facebook letter also includes references to Dr. Kristopher Wells continuing to loudly assert his own opinions through the mainstream media. As I wrote in my last article before summer break, all Albertans should be aware of Wells’ remarkable scope of influence on these issues.
Wells’ comments on Wednesday to the Calgary Herald regarding the open letter reveal his clear preference for systems of government that “impose” policy upon citizens.
The Herald notes that Wells is “asking the province to go one step further, making all gender diversity policies public and taking action against those who are not meeting guidelines” and that if “some policies are ‘still a patchwork’, the minister should impose a clear, across the board policy.” (emphasis added)
Minister Eggen’s announcement of $200 000 will go a long way to ensuring some people in our province will have a busy schedule of presentations and workshops to offer.
And it’s worth noting that there are few people in Alberta as qualified and eager as Wells to provide such training and professional development to schools across the province.
I would hope that school boards and administrators are wise when they make decisions of how to spend the $200 000 worth of professional development grant money and consider selecting people who do not vocally advocate for disempowering their authority and governing schools through imposed provincial government edicts that circumvent democratic process.
When it comes to questions of who will be employed by this generous provision of taxpayer funds, Albertans deserve an answer.
As is obvious from Minister Eggen’s open letter, these issues being foisted upon Alberta’s schools will not be going away anytime soon.
In fact, the open letter concluded with a promise that “In the coming weeks, Alberta Education will be promoting new resources to make sure that schools are safe and welcoming.”
And in this respect we ought to learn an important lesson from Dr. Wells’ example.
If Albertans expect to see the change that he has so successfully helped to influence over the past many years, then we need to commit to being just as vocal and persistent.
He won’t stop advocating about the issues that are important to him.
And neither should you.
Donna Trimble, Executive Director of Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), penned an open letter reply to Minister Eggen and has promised upcoming advocacy strategies to harness the collective voice of Albertans across the province.
It is also essential that we continue to encourage family, friends, coworkers and neighbours to become properly informed and engaged on these important issues.
We must continue to advocate on behalf of children, families, democratic freedoms and a respect for all human rights, ensuring that all students in Alberta schools experience a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment as they return to school in the upcoming weeks.
Subscribe to PCE’s Facebook page or their website newsletter for ongoing updates on how you can continue making your voice heard and refer to the “How to Respond” tab of this website to find the contact information of Minister Eggen, your MLA and school board trustees.
Demand the answers that you deserve from elected officials who are hired to represent you.
Your voice matters.