School Calendar and Bill 10 Policies Progress

On Monday, January 25, the Westwind Board of Trustees  held a meeting with Principals, School Council Members, to review the latest draft of the 2016-2017 School Calendar prepared by the School Board. This was done in keeping with the Board’s promise to follow through on the consultation process outlined before Christmas.

Another major topic of discussion was Bill 10 and the policy guidelines released last week by the Minister of Education,  entitled, Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions. We would like to take this opportunity to give an update of our progress on both these areas, as well as the next steps we will be taking.

Calendar

Background

At the January Board Meeting, the Board reviewed the survey responses from Staff and from the public about the proposed calendar. The responses and comments were valuable information to the Board. They took them into account and revised the draft calendar significantly as a result.

This revised draft was then presented to Principals for their feedback and response the next week. Principals offered their suggestions to further improve the calendar.

The Board reviewed the feedback from Principals and the survey data at their Board Planning Meeting in January. They discussed many possibilities for the calendar over two days. At the end of the planning session, the Board had a crafted a calendar which reflected the feedback they received.

Special School Council Meeting

The Board called a special meeting on January 25 with Principals and School Council members. The latest draft of the 2016-2017 School Calendar was presented there. This meeting showed that there was general support for the draft calendar from both administrators and school council members.

You can see the latest draft of the calendar here.

The current draft of the calendar includes features like:

  • Dismissal for all students on Fridays will be at noon.   

  • Teachers will be expected to invest two hours per week outside the student timetable but embedded in the teacher work week to increase their skills and understandings of best practice.  This time will be under the direction of the principal in each school to determine with staff those matters to be addressed.  These may include: literacy, numeracy, assessment, curriculum implementation, professional reading, self directed professional development, understanding and implementing policy, student focused discussions about learning and intervention and etc.

    • This increases the number of times that students get to be with their teachers and keeps family schedules more consistent.

    • It decreases the number of full-day professional development activities throughout the year.

    • This also gives principals more time to work with teachers on issues that affect their students. This includes things like literacy, numeracy, assessment, and many other issues.

  • Elementary School Students start after Labour Day.

    • This provides two more days of preparation and development for elementary principals and teachers.

Next Steps

The Board will review the draft calendar again at their next Board Meeting. They will discuss any other feedback they have received about the calendar at that meeting. They will then pass the Calendar at the Board Meeting in March. If you still have concerns, questions, or comments about the Calendar, you can send those to the Board at board@westwind.ab.ca.

Bill 10 and LGBTQ Policies

Background

There has been widespread concern about the Ministerial directive that all School Divisions develop policy about Bill 10 and the recently released Guidelines for Best Practices. There has also been concern that the Board will not be able to ensure the safety of students under the guidelines. The Board would like to reassure all parents that they will ensure the care and safety of every student in our schools.

Special Divisional School Council Meeting

Because of this public concern, we felt that it was appropriate to spend time in the Special Divisional School Council Meeting on this topic. While the Board is concerned about the potential impact of some of the Guidelines, they are absolutely committed to ensuring the safety and security of all students. We reviewed how Westwind would consider the Guidelines in their policy development  process and listened carefully to the thoughts, questions, and feelings of everyone involved.

We reviewed some concerns of parents. These included:

‘Boys or men will be able to walk into girls washrooms or change-rooms at will with impunity. Girls or women will be able to walk into boys washrooms or change-rooms at will with impunity.’

The purpose of Guideline #7: Providing safe access to washroom and change-room facilities, does not appear to be to make all washroom and change-room facilities available to anyone at any moment. It seems to focus on having clear policies and procedures in place for providing accommodations to gender diverse persons on an as needed basis. Westwind has always tried to come to workable accommodations in these situations in the past. The Board will not be allowing just anyone access to any washroom or change-room in their policy.

We remain committed to ensuring our schools are safe and welcoming places for all students. If individuals feel uncomfortable, unsafe, or unwelcome in a particular washroom or change-room for any reason, we feel confident that we can accommodate them in a more private area that is suitable to any person of any gender; a non-gendered washroom or change-room.

The Board will investigate pursuing some of the best practices from the guidelines as future renovation projects arise. These include increasing the privacy of all change-room facilities, creating more private washroom facilities, and clearly designating washrooms for the public and for students.

‘Providing non-gendered washrooms and changerooms will be expensive and impossible to achieve by the implementation date set by Minister Eggen.’

In our preliminary discussions, the Board and Administration have developed ways to accommodate non-gendered washroom and change-room options for the time being with no additional construction or renovation needed. As renovation projects arise, we will look at providing more privacy-enhanced options for all students.

A misunderstanding has been spreading in some areas of the Division that we will be removing the gender signs on washroom doors within the week. That is simply not true. No such changes are pending. Other changes, such as redesignating staff washrooms as non-gendered washrooms, may be implemented in March if the Board decides to pursue that route. All such changes will be clearly communicated by the Division to our schools and to the public. There won’t be a sudden or surprise change. We will clearly communicate any changes to these policies and procedures to everyone.

‘Parents can’t be called mothers and fathers any more.’

The Board and all staff in Westwind understand the importance of providing accommodations for individuals who would prefer different forms of address. This is in keeping with the common practice of teachers and administrators in Westwind and across the province for decades.

In general communications, Westwind and many other Divisions, have used language like “Dear parent/guardian” for decades. We will simply be asking our schools to ensure that all communications going out to parents, guardians, and families has this type of general language.

In individual communications with students and parents, we will be instructing staff to ask for clarification on preferred forms of address. This does not mean that staff can no longer refer to a particular student’s parents as their ‘mother’ or ‘father’ or as ‘Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so’. It means that the staff member will ask the family for guidance first. Many of our parents and teachers have been sensitive to these types of issues for years and will continue to do their best.

‘Parents can’t be informed of their child’s gender identity.’

We understand that many people are concerned that the Guidelines prohibit staff from ever disclosing a student’s self identification as LGBTQ to parents. However, the guidelines, simply appear to reinforce that staff should work with students to find the best way to inform parents in most cases. The guidelines also reinforce the common sense principle that divulging sensitive information about students could have significant negative impact on their home life. These are principles that teachers, counsellors, and youth workers across Canada are aware of and have to negotiate regularly. These principles aren’t new. They are simply being standardized in relation to sexual self identification and related issues in a school setting.

We realize that many parents view this confidentiality as a move by the government to remove the parent’s rights, responsibilities, and voice from the educational sphere. Westwind will always respect and call on parents to have a voice and a roll in the education of their children.

Next Steps

We were able to have a good dialogue with those present about these issues. We realize that there are many people who continue to harbor concerns about how these and other issues will impact them, their families, and their communities. We want to assure everyone that we are trying to understand and deal with these concerns. We value and encourage the emails, phone calls, and messages that we have received so far. If you would like to send your thoughts to the Board for their consideration as they formulate policy, please send your thoughts to board@westwind.ab.ca.

We have been in direct communication with the Ministry of Education about these issues. We will forward them a summary of the communications we have received from the public, but we would encourage you to send your correspondence to them directly. If you would like to contact representatives from the Ministry of Education to have your voice heard there, the Minister can be contacted at:

Your opinion and your voice matters.

The process we will be following for our policy formulation is as follows. We will have a Board Meeting next Tuesday at which we will review the correspondence we have received so far on this issue. The Board will then review the policies we have been working on to deal with our legislated responsibilities. After that Board Meeting we will review the policies with principals, and with the Policy Committee once more before submitting them to the Minister for review. It is a tight deadline, but we are confident that we can craft policy that protects the rights, dignity, and safety of all students.