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Alberta school boards question weight of LGBT guidelines

Education Minister David Eggen holds up the guidelines his department wrote for LGBT policies.

Metro File

Education Minister David Eggen holds up the guidelines his department wrote for LGBT policies.

With a deadline looming for school boards to submit policies to protect LGBT students, one southern Alberta board is ignoring provincial guidelines, arguing the minister gave them the OK.  

Minister David Eggen provided guidelines earlier this year and gave school boards until March 31 to help them create inclusive policies, but the Westwind School Division has become the latest to pass a policy that seems to ignore the government's suggestions. 

A post on the Westwind School Division’s website from board chair Ron Fromm said he had spoken with Eggen after concerns arose from local parents.

Fromm’s post said Eggen told him the guidelines were not mandatory.

“He reiterated that the [guidelines] were intended to be a resource for boards, but if they are not helping then don't use them in your policies,” reads the post.

Fromm also wrote the minister told him the government does not intend to interfere with parental or religious rights.

Eggen’s press secretary Larissa Liepins said Fromm’s post is largely accurate, but the minister did not suggest boards discard the guidelines.

“The guidelines were actually developed in response to the boards’ request for them, as a tool to help ,” she said. 

Fromm was not available, but Westwind's superintendent Ken Sommerfeldt said Eggen has made it clear the guidelines aren’t legally binding.

“We do not have to comply to that document — it’s a document, not legislation,” Sommerfeldt said. “We’re really interested in what’s best for all kids, rather than trying to define it in terms of specific groups, whatever group that might be.”

Unlike the Eggen’s guidelines, Westwind’s policy doesn’t specifically outline how the school will address safe access to washrooms and change-rooms, and dress codes based on gender expression.

Instead, the drafted guidelines respect “all” students, staff, parents and community members through broad initiatives, like developing voluntary student organizations. There’s no specific mention of creating a gay-straight alliance. "All" refers the protection of students' gender, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation, among others.

Liepins provided a statement from Eggen indicating what he expects from their new policies.

“The boards are required to respect their obligations under the law, and that includes the School Act, the Canadian Human right act, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act,” said the minister.

Dr. Kris Wells, co-director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said Westwind’s policy clearly doesn’t meet the standards.

“A policy like that simply cannot stand and we can’t have school boards that are trying to selectively enforce parts of legislation.”

Well said if boards are submitting policies that don’t meet the law Eggen should be prepared to impose one.

“School boards that don’t abide by the law need to be held accountable.”

Opposition leader Brian Jean said the government clearly has some work to do on the issue.

“Wildrose cares about LGBTQ kids and their safety must always be paramount. Nobody wants kids getting bullied,” he said. “It's clear that some school boards have legitimate questions about the guidelines and Wildrose is hopeful that the minister is willing to work with school boards on resolving their issues.”

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