ECSD Public Board Meeting Comments re: Commitment to Inclusive Communities in Edmonton Catholic Schools Governance Policy #14
First Round Comments
I would have liked to support the amendments to GP #14 because they greatly improve the current version of this policy. This latter version of GP #14 adds a very important quote from the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) which states that the Church believes any form of discrimination is contrary to God’s intent. It is a very strong statement by the church and very symbolic that it came from a Council which sought dialogue with the world and with modern society.
This version of GP #14 also removes the phrase “unjust discrimination” from the document and simply states that our school district will overcome and eradicate “every type of discrimination” and maintain “an environment free from discrimination of any type”. So this too is very positive.
So for these reasons I would have liked to approve GP #14 but I can’t because the purpose of this policy is to send it to the government in response to the Minister’s request on Nov. 5, 2015 for policy and regulations that in his words “respect diversity and fosters a sense of belonging”. He also requested that our Board specifically address our responsibilities as it relates to the LGBTQ community. This generic policy in my mind, does not do this.
I think that we also need to remember why we are here today: last year around this time, a parent of a grade 2 transgender girl lodged a human rights complaint against ECSD because this mother believed that we discriminated against her daughter when our staff denied her access to the girls’ washroom. At that time, because the Board did not have a policy on inclusion and diversity our staff referenced Administrative Policy and Regulations 138: Commitment to Inclusive Communities in Edmonton Catholic Schools. This Administrative Policy and Regulation is dated January 5, 2015 and predates the Human Rights complaint. It is as generic as GP #14. It didn’t work because it didn’t give clear direction to the staff on how to proceed in cases involving our LGBTQ students, staff and families. We need to remember the adage: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. I worry that the general nature of GP #14 will lead to general GP #14 regulations that will be unhelpful to our staff and administration who need clear direction on how to proceed with specific concerns brought forward by our LGBTQ students. Let us not forget that even the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver which are overseen by Archbishop Miller, have stand-alone policy and regulations for transgender students and gender expression. If they can do it, so can we.
Trustee Bergstra kindly sent all ECSD trustees on March 9, 2016 a number of studies that revealed that stand alone SOGI policies are more effective than generic inclusive ones. One of the studies she cited was called Every Class in Every School: Final Report on the First National Climate Survey on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools. This study which was funded by the University of Winnipeg Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Research Foundation for Society and Culture of Quebec and included 3,700 students from across Canada states that “Generic safe school policies that do not include specific measures on homophobia are not effective in improving the school climate for LGBTQ students. LGBTQ students from schools with anti-homophobia policies reported significantly fewer incidents of physical and verbal harassment due to their sexual orientation” (p.9) Our administration–not the Board because we have not yet to developed one– has a stand-alone Ethno Cultural Relations Administrative Policy and Regulations that gives very clear direction to staff on how to address racial discrimination. Why is that we cannot have a stand- alone policy on how our district addresses homophobia and transphobia?
Second Round Comments
As I mentioned before, I would have liked to support GP #14 with the amendments because it is a great improvement over the current version. One of the additions however, which I think will only muddy the waters further for our staff, is the inclusion of the phrase “The Alberta Act, 1905 pursuant to Catholic Denominational Rights”. We are suggesting to our staff that they operate under the laws of our country and our province in regards to human rights but then they also must be aware of our denominational rights as Catholics. We all know that our local church hierarchy does not approve of accommodating sexual and gender minority students because any action in this regard plays into relativism and legitimizes consensual sexual expression (Bishop Henry Pastoral Letter January 13, 2016). So how are our staff to balance all these competing interests—one to protect human rights and one to protect Catholic religious rights? If there is ever a district that needs a clear policy on sexual and gender minority students, its Catholic districts. I believe we need to pick a side in this debate and stick to it. What we are currently doing with GP #14 is downloading our own ambiguity on this matter to teachers and administration who are on the front lines. I believe that GP #14 is trying to be all things to all people and as a result will serve no one.
EPSB has had a very clear stand-alone SOGI policy since 2011 that reflects closely the Guidelines for Best Practices as provided by the Minister recently. I asked Chair Michael Janz if he could share with me any problems with assaults in the bathrooms and change rooms, if there were any parents feeling they lacked consent, or if there were any cisgender students who felt threatened by transgender students sharing their washrooms, change rooms, sports teams, or overnight field trip accommodations.
He wrote back that their stand-alone policy and regulations “have helped facilitate safe, caring, and healthy learning environments for all staff, students, and families. We have received much praise for the policy, which has clarified our expectations and set the ‘tone at the top’ in our District.” And to be fair, I have never heard in the media, any mention in the last 5 years, that EPSB has had any human rights complaints or any other form of complaint from parents or from students despite the fact that their policy follows the current Guidelines suggested by the Minister of Education. In fairness not only to our students but to our staff and administration, we need a stand-alone policy that will give clear direction on how we are to proceed as a district in accommodating our sexual and gender minority students. We have tried a generic inclusive communities’ policy already and it didn’t work. We need to learn from our mistakes so that we can reduce the chance of more human rights complaints and most importantly, so that we can fully support in a specific way our very vulnerable sexual and gender minority students. For these reasons I cannot support GP #14 with the amendments.