As the world continues to become an increasingly accepting and progressive place, Chinook’s Edge School Division is taking measures to ensure all of their schools provide welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments to every student.
At a Chinook’s Edge School Board meeting held in Innisfail on Wednesday, Jan. 13, the board approved Policy 2-18. The Board stated the policy respects student diversity and fosters a sense of belonging for all students – regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disabilities, family status or sexual orientation.
In addition to the passing of the policy, the Board also heard from Wanda Christensen, associate superintendent of Student Services, who shared progress on a pending administrative procedure, which has been developed over the course of the last two years by Student Services. The admin procedure will provide administrators in the division with a clear understanding of how to respond in instances where a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity is concerned.
“More and more students are feeling comfortable enough and we are becoming increasingly aware of their needs – administrators need to know exactly how to respond,” said Sacher during an interview with Sylvan Lake News. “As the world becomes more and more progressive, people are becoming more comfortable to be open with who they are and making that known – we need to be able to support all of our students.”
The sexual orientation admin procedure, which is expected to be in place by the end of March at the latest, involved input from a number of organizations within the Division as well as consultation from University of Alberta professor, Dr. Kris Wells – a leading expert, researcher and advocate in the LGBTQ community.
Trustee Sherry Cooper, chair of the policy committee stated during the meeting the Board appreciated the amount of work and input that had been put into the creation of the over arching policy and the upcoming admin procedure.
“Our division started this work nearly two years ago, because it’s the right thing to do,” said Cooper. “It’s important to the children and youth in our care, so it is important to us too. Everyone in Chinook’s Edge stands behind and appreciates our safe and caring culture.”
Although the Board’s policy and admin procedure have been nearly two years in the making – they come at a time when provincial attention to the subject is at an all time high following an announcement by Alberta Minister of Education, David Eggen, in late 2015 stating all schools are to have policies in place to support LGBTQ students by March 31,2016.
Earlier this month Eggen followed up on his announcement revealing 21 pages of new guidelines for schools to follow when they are creating their policies and administrative procedures.
“Long before the minister’s directive to school divisions around implementing LGBTQ policies, our board and division were very committed to providing welcoming, safe and caring environments – we were well on our way to developing policies and procedures,” said Sacher. “There has been an elevated level of interest on the topic for a number of reasons but it hasn’t been a big issue with us. We just want to be prepared and proactive with clarity around the language needed, so administrators know what it means and how to respond.”
Minister Eggen’s most recent guidelines specify transgender students be allowed to use the washroom of their choice depending on their gender identification as well as their ability to pick their own pronoun.
“All individuals have the right to be addressed by their chosen name and to choose pronouns that align with their gender identity and/or gender expression,” states the guidelines.
The document from Eggen also details the elimination of separated activities such as ‘boys versus girls’ games whether they be academic or athletic. It also suggests students be given the right to play for either the boys sports team or the girls depending on which gender they identify as, with the same respect to which change room they wish to use.School’s are also instructed that gay-straight alliances or other forms of support groups must be established whenever students show interest in forming one.
Sacher said he doesn’t expect Chinook’s Edge schools will see any major changes in their day-to-day operations.