EDMONTON- With a March 31 deadline looming, trustees with the Edmonton Catholic School District passed an inclusivity policy Tuesday night, one aimed at addressing how to accommodate LGBTQ students and staff.
The board’s revised policy states that “all children are unique, loved by God and created in God’s image. As such, all human beings are inherently sacred and must be treated with dignity and respect. Based on this belief, the mission of each school is to help students grow as children of God in all aspects of their person: physically, academically, socially, emotionally, morally and spiritually.”
The policy goes on to say that staff and students at Edmonton Catholic schools will be provided with an environment free of discrimination of any type, not just discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
Education Minister David Eggen has given Alberta school boards until the end of this month to submit their draft policy framework on the issue and has also reserved the right to overrule any board that denies students the ability to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
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The policy passed by the Edmonton Catholic School Board Tuesday night emphasized a fully-inclusive school community but doesn’t specifically mention GSAs and critics said it doesn’t go much further than the status quo and should be much more specific.
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“It’s fine but not for the purposes that we’re here,” Marni Manas, an LGBTQ advocate, said outside the meeting. “I mean 15 months ago, we started this conversation with a policy like that already in place and a child was still discriminated against – this policy doesn’t change that, that could still happen.”
Dylan Chevalier is a Catholic high school student who said he once went to a school event wearing his pride flag and was told to remove it. Chevalier told Global News he is disappointed by the new policy.
“All this policy is, is an overarching anti-discrimination policy, rather than a policy that is there to give protections for marginalized groups and rights for that group. It’s about equality versus equity here,” he said. “They’re not willing to protect LGBTQ students. They have a lacklustre policy. I think it’s time that there shouldn’t be any more publicly funded Catholic school districts.”
The mother of a transgender girl, who has asked not to be identified, also expressed disappointment with the policy. Her daughter had previously asked to use the girls washroom at her school but was made to use the gender neutral one instead.
“I’m surprised that we’re farther behind than we were 15 months ago,” she said. “I thought there would be a little more substantiation in the policy, considering this specific board asked the minister for guidelines.”
Trustees also unanimously voted to suspend school fees for basic education costs for the 2016-17 school year.
“The board is concerned with economic pressures many of our families are facing, and we want to support them in an effort to ease their financial concerns,” Marilyn Bergstra, the board chair, said in a news release.
The board said parents of children in the district spend a combined total of $7 million on school fees every year.
The decision means parents will get a break on everything from textbook rental fees, print fees, technology fees and library fees. However, optional activities like field trips, clubs, art and sports could still be subject to extra fees.
“We are hopeful that government will recognize the strain this puts on school jurisdictions and takes a serious look at funding such shortfalls as far as their mandate to fund basic education,” Bergstra said.
In a news release, superintendent Joan Carr said the $7-million shortfall will be made up for with funding from district and school operating budgets and suggested the decision is somewhat of an experiment.
“At the end of the 2016-17 year, we will evaluate the project before determining if we can sustain this model in the future,” Carr said.
With files from Shallima Maharaj.