FAQ on LGBTQ Issues

At the February 22 meeting a number of questions were asked and issues were raised. We have taken to time to go through those, research the issues more closely, and craft resposnes. Please take a close look at this FAQ as we feel that it will address many of the misconceptions and concerns in our communities. I you have any questions about this document or these issues, please write those to board@westwind.ab.ca.

Student Safety and School Procedures Issues

How will schools prevent visiting adults from using student washrooms?

Each school will be designating a washroom as a public washroom. During the school day, visiting adults, including parents, coaches, and people attending public events, will be required to use the public washrooms.

Will there be clarification on the rule that all students are to use the washroom and change room that corresponds with their biological gender, or they can use the universal washroom and change room?

This is an issue that will be addressed in school procedures. Principals and School Council’s will be encouraged (but not required) to adopt a procedure similar to the draft ones below, but adapted to best suit their students, school, and community. We anticipate that principals and school councils will implement a procedure of this type in order to clarify the rules and behavioural expectations in regards to these issues, and to ensure the safety, privacy, dignity, and rights of every student.

Gender segregated washrooms have been provided for all students to use in our school. If a student is uncomfortable using the washroom that corresponds with their biological gender, for any reason, a universal washroom is available for their voluntary use. The universal washroom is located at [insert location]. It is a private washroom that any student may use. (Possible School Procedures, Student Washroom Use, February 22, 2016)

Will schools be redoing their washroom and change room facilities? Where will the funding for those projects come from?

In the short term, we will be redesignating one or two washrooms in each school as a universal student washroom and a private public washroom. Schools may choose and apply to redo some of their washroom and change room facilities to address issues such as increased privacy, single occupant spaces, etc., as time and resources allow. We do not expect that there will be funds coming from the province that are designated specifically for these types of projects. The School Division will work in consultation with schools to determine which projects will be pursued when, and to what extent.

Who is the correct body to address the issue of gender self-identification in physical impact sports? How can comments be sent to that group?

The Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA) is the body that governs issues like gender self-identification in sports participation for high school students. Junior high school athletics in westwind will also be defaulting to the ASAA policies. The ASAA are in the process of determining their stance and policies on these issues. If you would like to submit your thoughts and comments on this or other related issues, you can write to them at info@asaa.ca.

What are the procedures for rooming accommodations on school trips?

The procedures for rooming with on school trips will be determined on a case by case basis. The preference is to have all students subject to the same kind of rules, but as issues arise the Division will work with Principals, teachers, parents, and students to arrive at an acceptable accommodation that will ensure the safety, privacy, dignity, and rights of every student are respected.

Parental Rights and Involvement Issues

Why does your document acknowledge parents only as partners in educating their children, not as the primary educators?

Our communications have consistently identified parents as partners in educating their children, just as teachers, administrators, coaches, and the educational system as a whole are partners in educating their children. There was no intent to relegate parents to a secondary role or responsibility in this regard. We want to emphasize that we recognize that parents have the responsibility to be the primary educator and caregiver of their children. We encourage parents to exercise and fulfil those responsibilities and to keep school staff informed of essential issues facing their children so that we can know how best help them succeed in school.

How can parents be involved in finding solutions for these issues that work for their schools? What will the role of the School Council be in shaping school procedures around these issues?

All schools need to set procedures that will address the issues of washroom and change room usage and other issues. These need to be crafted to best suit the students, school, and community. Parents should play a vital role in this process with the School Council. The School Division will work with the principals to develop draft procedures that can be shaped by school councils and principals in consultation with their parents and community members. Please be involved with your school council, that is how you can have your voice heard as these procedures are drafted and implemented. You can find out when your school council meetings are scheduled for by calling your school.

Will Westwind schools be holding combined Human Sexuality or Sexual Education classes? If yes, how will that affect students’ learning and participation in those classes?

The current practice of holding gender segregated classes on the topic of human sexuality, also known as Theme V, will not change as there is no pressing need to consider any changes .  

What changes will be made to the Division’s policy and practice surrounding parental opt-out for Human Sexuality or Theme V in the curriculum?

The current policy, 442.0 - Theme V Human Sexuality, which states that parents will be informed and can opt out of having their students participate in the Human Sexuality curriculum, will not change. The Minister of Education himself has indicated in correspondence to parents writing him on these issues and in personal conversation with Board Chair Ron Fromm that this will not change at the provincial level.

Division Direction Issues

Where are the Division and School policies and procedures at? What are the changes to Policy to conform with the legislation?

The School Division has redrafted their Safe and Caring Schools Policy to reflect the changes to the Human Rights Act and the School Act. The new policy is now called the Welcoming, Safe, Caring, and Respectful Schools Policy. The changes to the policy include a recognition of the rights granted to all Albertans in the amended Human Rights Act, including sexual orientation, religion, sexual identity, and sexual expression. The School Board has been very attentive to the feedback from the public that they have received at board@westwind.ab.ca and at the public meeting held on February 22, 2016. You can see the updated draft of the policy here.

How will policy and procedure be enforced?

Schools are expected to set and enforce rules and procedures on these and many other issues. We encourage principals to be circumspect and inclusive in their drafting of rules and procedures. As they communicate these rules, procedures, and expectations clearly in their schools, we expect to see them uniformly and consistently applied and enforced to ensure that all students’ safety, privacy, dignity, and rights are equally guaranteed. The Division will support Principals in these measures.

Why are the Division’s Policy and Procedures so vague?

School Division policies must be global in nature. They are designed to include issues that we currently face, and be broad enough that they can cover a multitude of unforeseen issues that may arise. For this reason Division policies and procedures provide general guidance that enables people to act reasonably. School Procedures are generally more specific since school facilities, programs, the age of students, and situations are varied. In reviewing the draft policy with legal counsel, the Board was encouraged to hear that the policy has been well crafted up to this point and that it is legally sound. We will be working with Principals and School Councils to craft rules and procedures that address these issues more specifically and in the way that best suits each school’s students and community. If you would like to be part of this process, please participate in and engage with your School Council.

Why is the Division not taking a public stance supporting the Catholic Schools’ and Fort Vermillion’s hard stance against the Ministry’s Guidelines for Best Practice?

The School Board has been closely watching the actions and reactions of other school divisions to the Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children, previously known as Bill 10, and the Guidelines for Best Practice. As we have observed the actions of other divisions, and as we have considered how we have dealt with the issues raised by the amended legislation, we see no large incompatibility between our current practice and what the legislation requires. Recommendations of the “Guidelines for Best Practice Document”  are beyond what the Board felt comfortable drafting into policy and have therefore not been included in Westwind policy.   Since the Guidelines have been declared not legally binding by the Minister, the Board has chosen to simply not include any part of the Guidelines in their policy. The Board is committed to ensuring that our schools remain a safe place for all students, including those who are LGBTQ or who are friends, family, or allies of LGBTQ persons.

Parents and community members have called on the Westwind School Board to speak out and defy the Ministry of Education and the Government of Alberta. The School Board has reviewed and carefully considered these requests. The Board has decided that political advocacy on these issues is better left in the hands of individual citizens and in public advocacy groups, which can be formed by anyone.

There are a number of steps that can be taken including seeking a judgement by the Human Rights Tribunal and petitioning the Provincial Government. We would be happy to provide what information and statistics we have and are appropriate to share publicly, but the Board feels that these efforts are better undertaken as private ventures and that they will be most effective as such.

The Board wants to keep the dialogue and conversation in our school communities as positive as possible to help keep our schools a welcoming, safe, caring, and respectful environment for all people. The emotional nature of the discussions surrounding these issues over the past months has created a tense atmosphere for these people. We have heard from individuals who feel less welcome at school, less accepted at school, and less comfortable with their self identity because of these emotional responses. We would ask that everyone make an effort to express acceptance and appreciation for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religious creed, race, culture, physical or mental disability. We are all part of creating a charitable and accepting community where everyone has the opportunity to succeed; empowering the human potential of all.

Why are school counselors not explaining sexual orientation change options to students?

There are a number of blog posts circulating which purport to demonstrate the success of different therapies and treatment options in addressing transgender feelings or issues. All professional counseling and therapy organizations consider treatments that seek to alter the sexuality of clients to be unethical. For this reason, school counselors and private counselors and therapists alike do not recommend, direct, carry out, or facilitate entry into therapy programs that seek to alter client sexuality. If they do, they are in violation of the ethical standards of the counseling and therapy professional organizations (American Psychological Association, Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, page 86)

Are we ‘letting the camel’s nose in the tent?’

One common concern that we have heard from many parents, community members, and news sources, is that Alberta Education’s Guidelines for Best Practice are first steps of a larger nefarious agenda that seeks to promote a particular sexual philosophy and to undermine family values. Since there is no document published by the Alberta Government that outlines such a deliberate agenda, we can’t comment on that.

We can promise that the Westwind School Board is committed to ensuring that all our students are welcomed, safe, cared for, and respected in every way, including respect for human rights such as religious beliefs, gender identity, and all other human rights. We hope that all our students, parents, and community members will share and pursue that lofty goal. We hope that the citizens of Alberta and Canada will continue to engage effectively in the political and democratic process to ensure that the government passes laws that consistently reflect the country’s values and that are in the best interest of its citizens.

Why was the meeting not designed as a Q&A session?

This meeting was designed with three main portions. Education, Feedback, and Response. We wanted to ensure that we gave attendees reliable background information on these issues, that we heard important comments and feedback from the public, and that we had an opportunity to answer and respond to the feedback and questions that were posed to the Board by the attendees. This was a difficult task, and we felt that it would be best accomplished by delineating a clear separation between Education, Feedback, and Response. We also wanted to ensure that the meeting would be an engaging and respectful experience for everyone in attendance; from administrators and Board Members to speakers and observers. We feel that the meeting largely accomplished those goals, and we will fine tune our approach to meeting management in future engagement processes.