June 28, 2011

New Policy for Safer Schools

Posted in Current Events, hate crimes, homophobia at 5:47 pm by sacetalks

The Edmonton Public School Board has drafted a new policy regarding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It was drafted to address the disproportionate amount of bullying, harassment, discrimination, violence and high rate of suicide that students, staff and family members, who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, experience at Edmonton Public Schools. The School Board has already voted to implement the policy and recently opened up a discussion for the public to look over its wording and provide feedback.

When I looked at the policy outline, I had no problem with the wording. I feel like the authors are making a commendable effort to protect everyone whose chosen or presumed sexual and/or gender identity and/or expression unjustifiably renders them targets for abuse.

The recent news coverage of this policy has focused on its opposition by representatives from religious programs that operate under the jurisdiction and authority of the Edmonton Public School Board. One group posted an alert on their website to parents, which warns this policy would have a “significant, negative impact on our Logos Christian Alternative Program” (quoted from website). Their main issue is with points in the policy that state all gender and sexual identities shall be affirmed in the school environment. In their school programs they do not want to feel obligated to affirm, in their words, homosexuality. Rather, they want their teachers and principals to have the right to teach that the “homosexual lifestyle is not in accord with their Christian beliefs” (quoted from website).

The Edmonton Public School Board and the Logos Christian program are in an ideological struggle; an ideology affirming that all sexualities and genders are valued is conflicting with an ideology stating homosexuality is wrong. The truth is, this struggle is much bigger than the Edmonton Public School Board policy and will continue long after people forget about this particular issue.

Still, let us focus on the Logos Christian Program representatives’ worry that their teachers would be forced to affirm homosexuality in their classroom.

To be honest, they don’t need to worry. Any opportunity for students and teachers to talk about and explore the values in these sexual and gender identities and expressions is already restricted because of much more powerful legislation. The government of Alberta determines the curriculum teachers are required to teach in their classrooms. Nowhere in that curriculum is a lesson plan ready to be created that focuses on the affirmation of diverse sexual and gender identities and expressions. Plus, the Alberta government’s legislation, Bill 44, dictates that if teachers want to plan lessons on sex, religion or sexual orientation, they must give parents written notice. The parents have the right to withdraw their children from those classes if they wish. Thus, despite the Edmonton Public School Board’s new policy, a teacher has no obligation to talk about “homosexuality,” and if they choose to create a lesson plan about minority sexualities, they are still going to have to respect parents’ decisions to remove their children from these classes. Contrary to their worries, this new policy will not force teachers to affirm homosexuality in their lesson plans and students to hear this message. However, it will require that in their day-to-day engagement with students, parents and teachers they show respect to everyone, even those with non-mainstream sexualities and genders.

Thinking about Bill 44, I have to wonder – Do the teachers in the Logos program have to send out a notice to parents each time they wish to teach their students that homosexuality is a sin? That lesson involves both sexual orientation and religion.

Bottom line – I believe the Edmonton Public School Board’s new policy is making a positive step towards less violence and more well-being for individuals in my community. To me, that’s always a worthy goal.

By Meagan Simon

References:

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/life/Christian+program+worried+about+impact+school+policy+sexual/4934770/story.html

http://www.christianprogram.ca/home.html

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3 Comments »

  1. Jordan said,

    I think this is a well thought out response to this issue, although I don’t see it the same way as you do.

    Certainly the federal legislation is the starting point in this debate, in that the Charter protects both freedom of religion [in section 2 (a)] and sexuality [in Section 15(1)]. Ostensibly there is a tension between these enshrined rights, but to my knowledge there isn’t jurisprudence that illuminates how such tension would be resolved. I suppose the pragmatic approach a court could take is to make clear that any legislation, policy, or directive that affirms same-sex or gender identity issues must do so in a way that doesn’t force those with religious beliefs contrary to such perspective to also affirm same-sex or gender identity issues. In other words, having to walk the tightrope of protecting sexual equality with as little infringement to religious freedoms as possible. In most instances, I think it’s possible to write effective legislation, policy, and directive, while walking such tightrope.

    I would think, ultimately, the final draft of the EPSB policy will remove the language relating to affirming the sexual orientation and gender identity of students. If such language is removed, I don’t see the policy as being an issue for teachers in Logos or any other party. However, in its current draft i think there could be an issue with both Logos teachers and other parents and children within the environment of Edmonton Public Schools. .

    I would have to re-read the policy again, but the issue I see is that the policy seems to be broad in scope, such that it covers not just teachers, but other students and parents (ie: the “school environment” must affirm the sexual orientation and gender identity of certain students). If that’s the case, there is a possible Charter violation, as those who hold religious views that do not support homosexuality would still be forced to affirm homosexuality.

    I think the policy is drafted poorly. If the aim of the policy is to prevent marginalization and bullying of students who are homosexual, transgendered, bisexual, or have other alternative sexual preferences, the policy can have language that prevents “actions” rather than enforcing “beliefs”. In other words, whatever one’s beliefs are, there is no excuse for bullying someone based on their sexuality. It isn’t necessary to strong-arm such person to have to agree with a particular view of sexuality. The EPSB should use policy to regulate behaviors rather than enforce beliefs.

    By definition, “affirm”, means one speaks to something as being true (http://mw2.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/affirm). I don’t believe EPSB should be implementing policy that forces teachers, students, or parents to publicly speak the truth of something that contravenes their religious beliefs.

    I think legal counsel to the EPSB will likely suggest that the language be revised, whether that happens or not will be interesting to find out. If the language isn’t revised, I fully expect this issue to be litigated by someone with standing (perhaps a teacher or parent).

  2. sacetalks said,

    Thanks for adding to the discussion. Your legal perspective is appreciated.

    I have an issue with the assertion that beliefs can be separated from behavior. Sure, in our legal system, behaviors are deemed legal or illigal; our beliefs have little relevance.

    However, from a social psychogy perspective, behaviors can very rarely be separated from the beliefs which either instigate the behaviors, or justify them afterwards. To socially change behaviors, our beleifs must be addressed.

    You are right to question whether the Edmonton Public School Board, in its position as a policy-maker, should address beliefs or stick to legal precedent and only address behaviors.

  3. This is a topic that is close to my heart… Many thanks!

    Where are your contact details though?


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