SAINT JOHN –
A New Brunswick government review of its own policy on sexual orientation and gender identity supports within the school system is prompting questions and concerns.
The stated purpose of Policy 713 within the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is to set “minimum requirements for school districts and public schools to create a safe, welcoming, inclusive, and affirming school environment for all students, families, and allies who identify or are perceived as LGBTQI2S+.”
The provincial policy began in August 2020.
The provincial government says a review of Policy 713 was already underway, prior to a protest this past Friday outside a school where teachers were attending a professional training sessions on Council Day. One of the sessions was about Policy 713.
“There were 15 to 20 protestors who arrived around noon carrying signs with very disrespectful messages,” says Connie Keating, president of the New Brunswick Teachers Association. “It was obvious the protestors had many fears that were based on misinformation.”
Keating says protestors held signs that said “shame on teachers” and “perverts in education.”
Late Friday afternoon, Education and Early Childhood Development Bill Hogan released a statement saying the department had received “a number of calls with concerns” regarding Friday’s Council Day sessions. In the statement, Hogan says the sessions weren’t organized by the provincial government and that “any questions regarding these sessions should be directed to the respective organizations.”
Keating says Hogan’s statement left teachers to stand alone in defending a provincial policy.
“So what ended up happening was rather than standing up for the rights of all teachers and students to feel safe at school, the government deliberately chose to dismiss its own policy in the statement that it released on Friday,” says Keating.
Hogan wasn’t made available for comment on Monday.
In a written statement Monday, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Education says “we do not condone the tactics that were directed at our teachers and we will always ensure human rights are protected.”
Monday’s statement from the department also says the implementation of Policy 713 “revealed instances where the policy is perhaps too broad and/or unclear.”
The provincial government didn’t answer follow-up questions about the review of Policy 713 on Monday.
The opposition parties are demanding more information.
“By putting it under review, I think that they’re sending a message that could put students at risk and target students and educators for some of the harassment we saw on Friday,” says Liberal leader Susan Holt. “I think the government needs to be clear on this and help us understand why this is being reviewed and whether their intent is to strengthen the policy, because we can not move backwards on this.”
Green Party leader David Coon made mention of ongoing legislation within the United States to restrict mention of sexual orientation or gender identities within school curriculums.
“I’m hoping the minister isn’t being swayed by the vile hatred that seems to be leaking across the border on social media and from some parts of the United States,” says Coon. “That would be unacceptable, in the extreme.”
Policy 713 requires school personnel to “ensure that the school environment respects student’s right to self-identify, and appropriate measures are in place to protect personal information and privacy.”
The policy requires every school to have a designated staff member to act as an advocate for LGBTQI2S+ students, and for school districts to provide professional learning opportunities for staff to support LGBTQI2S+ students.
The NBTA says professional association dues from teachers, paid for Friday’s Council Day sessions.
Policy 713 requires all public schools to have at least one gender-neutral bathroom, and that all students have access to bathrooms and activities “that align with their gender identity.”
The policy recommends superintendents make “reasonable efforts to support students who request to transfer schools due to reasons relating to their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression
The original document was signed by Dominic Cardy, former Minister of Education and Early Childhood Education.
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