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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

A tale of two school boards

While New West school board passes sanctuary city policy, a parent group in Richmond is worried about creating safe spaces for transgendered youth.

Advocates for the rights of undocumented immigrants and refugees cheer after New Westminster School Board unanimously passed B.C. first explicit

Contributed/Jorge Salazar

Advocates for the rights of undocumented immigrants and refugees cheer after New Westminster School Board unanimously passed B.C. first explicit "sanctuary schools" policy on Monday night.

Two Lower Mainland school districts are in the headlines this month and while they both are wrestling with how to make students safe in their schools, one school board is leaning in to the leading edge of inclusivity while the other lags behind the status quo.  

Let’s start with the good news. Last week, New Westminster school trustees unanimously passed a sanctuary policy ensuring that children residing in New West will be able to enroll, even without proof of immigration status.  While Vancouver and Burnaby have already passed access without fear policies aiming to address the same issue, New West’s Safe and Welcoming Schools for All policy goes a step further by including a promise that the Canada Border Services Agency will not be allowed to enter schools unless required by law.

Trish Kelly:

Many Canadians feel safe around law enforcement and are confident that the people we place in uniform and arm with guns are around to protect us. This policy is not for those people. The policy is for those amongst us, who regardless of their immigration status now, have lived in places where people in uniforms can disappear a family member or detain them for no legal reason.  The policy is for those whose life experience tells them it’s not a stretch that a border agent might walk into a school and take a child in to custody to draw out a parent in hiding.

In the Richmond School District, the issue of safety for LGBTQ students is raising hackles and inspiring petitions.  Last November, two Richmond students asked their school board to create a policy to ensure schools are safe environments for transgender students and kids of all sexual orientations. At this point, every other school board in the Metro area, except Abbotsford, has one.

The Richmond board supported the idea, but opposition from some parents is proving a barrier. A parents group spokesperson interviewed on Global Television last week explained aside from a perceived lack of consultation for parents, giving more formal support to LGBTQ+ students could possibly turn straight students homosexual. That there are parents who believe sexual orientation and gender are inappropriate life choices that need to be discouraged, is bad news for all Richmond kids, but especially for the ones who live in such households. For such kids, school could be the only safe haven from homophobia and transphobia.

Kids spend more of their waking time in school than anywhere else. For kids who feel unsafe at home, school could be the first place that they have true sanctuary, from immigration officers, from bullies, and toxic parents. Let’s hope Richmond trustees see New West as an inspiration to do what’s right.

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter @trishkellyc.

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