The Chinook’s Edge School Division is currently undergoing conversations to draft administrative procedures to define and outline procedures to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and queer (LGBTQ) students, staff and families who may be undergoing concerns around sexual orientation and gender identity.
Recently family wellness workers and counsellors from the school division took part in a seminar with a leader educator from the University of Alberta, Dr. Kris Wells, as part of the Board’s commitment to support all LGBTQ persons in their schools.
Wanda Christensen, associate superintendent of student services for Chinook’s Edge, explained Dr. Wells has visited the Chinook’s Edge in the past when they were creating their creation of a ‘Safe and Caring Schools’ policy last year. She added Wells has done extensive research, advocacy and education in the LGBTQ community across the country. Christensen stated she was pleased Wells was able to share his research and discuss strategies for being as effective as possible in supporting LGBTQ students in the division’s schools as they go forward with the creation of their admin procedures.
“We felt that after developing some strategies and implementing them last year that we still had more work to do in supporting our students when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity,” explained Christensen. “After working with the Safe and Caring Schools committee to help the schools develop the Safe and Caring admin procedures it came to our attention that we should move forward in supporting our children and youth in this way,
“It was a first step in bringing awareness and good solid research to the division and we will continue to work alongside him as we continue to build our admin procedure and implement it in the school division.”
On a provincial level, similar conversations have been happening in other school divisions across Alberta following a November 4th announcement by the Minister of Education, David Eggen, stating all school boards in the province are expected to have policies which specifically support LGBTQ students and staff.
While this may have come as a surprise to some school boards, Christensen said this has been a priority policy to Chinook’s Edge for some time.
“We had already been having these conversations before the Minister announced it would be mandatory. Around a year ago it became very clear to us as a division that we needed to move forward in supporting our youth in this matter,” she explained. “My first experience with transgender youth came around 10 years ago while I was working in another division – they were in Gr. 2 and very young,”
“Over the years as I learned more about the topic I realized we have a number of students in the division who might not be supported in the best ways possible so it was encouraged around a year ago that the board start to have these conversations.”
Chinook’s Edge stated they hope the policy creation will allow them to honour LGBTQ students and staff in the best ways possible and ensure school leaders are aware and have strategies in place to support them.
“Our hope is that by bringing awareness and education in and arming our staff with good solid strategies to support them then everything from the language used to the environments we create to ensure we have safe places for youth are all some of the strategies we will be implementing,” said Christensen. “Above and beyond that it is really about open communication and continuing to enhance our inclusive environments so that our population of students experiencing struggles around sexual orientation and gender identity would feel supported and know that we care for them, we support them and we value them.”
She added Chinook’s Edge has been receiving a great deal of positive feedback on the initiative thus far despite the sensitivity of the subject.
Among those praising the school division are principals of H.J. Cody High School, Dave Elwood, and Fox Run Middle School principal, Don Rattray.
Principal Elwood stated H.J. Cody wishes to support their students in the best way possible.
“The level of openness, inclusion and tolerance over the last 10 years has greatly increased within many schools and school boards. Never did I think I would see school board adopting these policies let alone the province mandating them,” said Elwood. “We know we have groups of kids looking for identity in all ways, not just around gender and sexual orientation and we just want all of them to know that we are here to help in any way we can. We’ve always responded to the needs of our kids – it’s our job as a school to support all of our students and make them feel as safe as possible.”
“The drafted admin procedures will give schools the direction and support to do their jobs to the best of their abilities and help our students as best we can. I really must commend the school board for learning about the needs of kids right beside us and using their collective to really make life better for kids.”
Principal Rattray stated in the past he feels the environment of Fox Run School has always been one of inclusion very similar to H.J Cody, however he feels the procedures being developed will make sure all of the school’s in all reaches of Chinook’s Edge will be on the same page.
“We need to support all students and make them feel safe and welcome,” said Rattray.
Chinook’s Edge expects the administrative procedure to be formalized within the next month.