Parents concerned about the implementation of the government-mandated Sexual Orientation Gender Identity guidelines in public school shared their worries with the Campbell River school board at the public meeting Tuesday night.
“As parents, and I hope you guys as well, we all want to protect our children,” said Vanessa McLean, who spoke on behalf of the group. “We want them to be healthy and thrive and to do what is best for them. We must be their biggest advocates. We cannot sit by and allow radical, biased agendas to infiltrate our schools and prey upon the vulnerability of our children, pushing beliefs and values that are contrary to evidence-based research.”
On Sept. 8, 2016 the minister of education announced that references to sexual orientation and gender identity were required in school district policies.
“The changes will bring district school policies in line with the July 2016 amendments to the B.C. Human Rights Code that included gender identity and expression as prohibited grounds of discrimination,” a government news release said.
SOGI123 grew from this requirement as a way to facilitate collaboration, programming and funding for schools to implement the required changes.
“It is changing times,” said Susan Wilson, school district board chair, at the meeting. “There are a lot of things that are being looked at differently, incorporated differently and it is always difficult when there is change. I think that we can all agree that children is what we are here for and that is what we need to keep as our bottom line as we work through some of these challenging issues.”
The SOGI123 B.C. website outlines three steps to “help educators make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”
The first is to implement SOGI-inclusive polices and procedures. The SOGI website outlines 10 key components for these which include incorporating appropriate and respectful language, allowing students to self-identify (which means they choose what name they go by and which pronouns they want to be addressed as), as well as training teachers and staff to develop a broad understanding of SOGI and incorporating classroom materials and activities that contain positive images and accurate information about sexual and gender diversity. One of the components also calls for gender neutral washrooms and change rooms.
Step two of SOGI implementation is to create inclusive environments which means implementing gender-free phrases in policy and instruction and shutting down disrespectful terms like saying “that’s so gay”, as well as increasing awareness about SOGI and being a visually welcoming and inclusive space.
Step three is incorporating SOGI in the school curriculum, not with a specific “SOGI curriculum” but as a thread that can be addressed throughout many subjects and topics. The SOGI123 website provides lesson plans that fit in with the current B.C. curriculum but are SOGI inclusive as well as video links and book suggestions in both English and French.
“What is being created is an environment in which anybody in the school community can feel safe and represented and included and that is a wide spectrum from whatever religious beliefs that people have to how they identify as human beings,” said Superintendent Tom Longridge at the meeting.However, McLean doesn’t believe that sexual orientation or gender identity should be discussed in school and especially not with elementary-aged children.
“I’m really asking that this completely be removed from our school systems in School District 72,” she said.
Chris McCay, another member of the community agreed with McLean, adding that the SOGI123 resource package is offensive to his Christian beliefs and in violation of his right to religious freedom.
“Unlike the radical LGBTQ lobby we do not expect our beliefs to be taught in public schools, but Christian families and non-Christian families have an equal right to educate in our non-Christian school system,” he said. “We also have an equal right to have our values and beliefs respected in that process and not trampled.”
He said that he feels that telling or implying to children that changing gender is a good thing, starting as early as Kindergarten, is highly dangerous. Echoing McLean’s sentiments.
“We thus expect these schools to leave these subjects at the discretion of parents to be address at home,” he said. “We do not endorse bullying or any sort against person for any reason but the prevention of bullying does not require the normalization of behaviours that we would regard as anti-Christian.”
Though the board listened and thank the parents for presenting their concerns at the meeting, trustee John Kerr said they were presenting their concerns to the wrong people.
“I would point out that in matters of curriculum implementation, the board does not have the discretion to ignore or disregard directives from the minister or the Ministry of Education,” he said. “Groups that have issues with provincially mandated curriculum have the option of making their case to the minister of education where their concerns can be considered by those who are in the position to address them and make the decisions about those concerns.”
The board encouraged the attendees to write to the ministry with their concerns.