Policy 502.2 Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression

 

LETHBRIDGE SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 51 BOARD OF TRUSTEES 433 - 15 STREET SOUTH LETHBRIDGE ALBERTA T1J 2Z5 PHONE: (403) 380-5301 FAX: (403) 327-4387 www.lethsd.ab.ca

February 24, 2016

To: Lethbridge School District No. 51 Staff and Parents/Guardians of Students

The Lethbridge School District No. 51 Board of Trustees approved first reading of Policy 502.2 Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression at the February 23 Board meeting and would like to take the opportunity to share points of consideration and clarify requirements according to legislation as well as recommendations as outlined in the provincial document Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Gender Expressions.

Prior to first reading of Policy 502.2, the Board gave final reading to policy 502.1 Welcoming, Caring, Respectful and Safe Learning Environments including a new Student Code of Conduct in December 2015. Together, these two policies meet the new legislative requirements of Bill 10 and the School Act, as well as the Education Minister Eggen’s request for submission of policies to the province. The Welcoming. Caring, Respectful and Safe Learning Environments policy is an umbrella policy that expresses commitment to the right of all students to be in schools that promote equity of opportunity, dignity, and respect. The needs of students are always our top priority when making decisions and drafting policy, and the Board believes both policies represent our commitment to ensuring school is a safe place for all students and that all students have rights of equality of opportunity, dignity, and respect protected.

The Board collected feedback to draft policy 502.2 including: a parent session held Jan. 19, an online feedback form, emailed feedback, input from the District Policy Advisory Committee that includes representation from District School Council, ATA, CUPE, and the Board, as well as advice from Alberta School Board Association legal counsel. The Board gave the breadth of feedback careful consideration and made seven changes to the draft policy. These changes are outlined in more detail on our website www.lethsd.ab.ca. The draft policy in its first reading form is on the website as well as a description of considerations from the feedback. The Board has provided for further feedback through the website and will once again, carefully review and consider feedback from parents, staff, students, and the public.

The Board acknowledges and gave careful consideration to the request of some community members to not have a stand-alone policy addressing sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression and embed elements required in this policy in an umbrella welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment policy. The Board made the decision to keep both the umbrella Welcoming, Caring, Respectful and Safe policy and the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression policy in keeping with our belief that decisions must be in the best interest of all students. One of the goals of both policies is to ensure that we create school communities where all members of the community are protected from discrimination. It is not a new practice to provide support to a certain section of the student population if it is determined that they are likely to face discrimination. It is our belief that Policy 502.2 does not jeopardize the rights and safety of all students and does support an identified at-risk population. BOARD OF TRUSTEES Mich Forster Jan Foster Keith Fowler Lola Major Donna Hunt Tyler Demers Don Lacey

Statistics indicate that students who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or two-spirited (LGBTQ2) are at a significantly higher risk of being the victim of bullying and abuse and as a result are 3 to 4 times as likely to encounter mental health issues including depression, an increased suicide rate, and homelessness. It is clear there is a distinct need for support within this group and Lethbridge School District No. 51 policy will ensure that all students are treated equally, made to feel safe and welcomed, and that their needs are respected and supported. There has been significant concern expressed about the points in the guidelines that seem to indicate to some that students will be allowed to decide on a whim that they wish to use the opposite gendered change/washrooms. This is not how the Board interprets these guidelines and does not accurately reflect the challenges facing transgender students. Common sense and respect for privacy and dignity has been practiced prior to the guidelines and will continue to prevail when addressing situations in which accommodations are required.

The Board acknowledged some expressed objection to the regulation in Policy 502.2 stating that students have their "confidentiality protected" but kept it in the draft in keeping with FOIP legislation and practice that has been the case for years in schools. Teachers and counsellors have always, and will continue to, work with students’ support networks, including the family.

The draft policy has received first reading, but feedback still needs to be gathered prior to the second and third reading of the policy. At the February 23 Board meeting, a petition was presented to the Board calling for a public meeting "to consider this policy and to form a committee with four elected representatives, chosen at that public meeting and two School Board appointees." This petition is in keeping with Section 269 of the School Act. A meeting date will be established and communicated within 21 days and comply with the requirement that the date fall within 90 days of the petition. The role of the committee that is elected at the meeting will be to formulate recommendations to the Board regarding the policy.

The Board is very aware of the complexities that surround these policies and will gather feedback from the public meeting committee as well as the online feedback form. We look forward to continuing to support and respect the perspective of each and every member of our diverse school communities.

Sincerely,

Mich Forster

Board Chair

Lethbridge School District No. 51