By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 18, 2016
Catholic school districts in Alberta received poor grades for their LGBT policies, according to a new report from the organization “Public Interest Alberta.”
Professor Kristopher Wells authored the report, “Making the Grade,” after conducting an analysis of the LGBT policies for four school districts. Wells, who directs the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, studied the Grand Prairie Catholic Schools and the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools as part of the report. The Edmonton Journal reported further:
“Wells evaluated four policies based on six criteria, including whether it complied with provincial legislation, protected students and staff members’ privacy, and spelled out how schools will support transgender and non-binary people.
“He said shortcomings include apparent restrictions on requesting gay-straight alliances in some Catholic school districts. Grande Prairie and St. Albert Catholic districts both have policies saying the groups will ‘normally’ be established at the Grade 7-to-12 levels, that the principal has to agree to the club’s name, and must approve any material going before the group.
“The report also said some districts did not include protections for students’ families or staff who are gender diverse, and failed to spell out how transgender people will be directed to bathrooms or change rooms, and join sports teams.”
Both Catholic districts received a D, but have pushed back against Wells’ report. Karl Germann, superintendent of Grand Prairie Catholic Schools, said the provincial Ministry of Education had approved its policies on inclusion. Germann said students are “loved and cared for,” in addition to legal compliance. David Keohane, superintendent of Greater St. Alberta Catholic School District, claimed the report was incomplete.
Wells criticized the lack of a unified policy in the province, which makes finding and understanding a given district’s policies on gender and sexuality confusing. He told the Edmonton Journal:
” ‘Unequivocally, any student who walks through any school in this province should be entitled to the same supports, the same resources, the same protections regardless of where they go to school.’ “
Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, suggested the Ministry of Education post every district’s policies in a central and accessible place.Every school system in Alberta had to submit their LGBT policies for review last March. Thus far, the Ministry and Minister David Eggen have not released which districts have LGBT policies which are legally compliant and which are insufficient.
In related news, the leader of Alberta’s Liberal Party, David Swann, has said school districts which do not meet new LGBTQ standards should potentially have their funding and charters withdrawn. He told CBC:
” ‘The legislation, supported by every provincial party, and the policies set forth by the government, were created to provide kids with the right to be who they are. . .No organization, especially a school, should have the ability to take those rights away.’ “
Swann also said reparative therapy should be banned. His comments come after a Baptist leader said LGBTQ policies should and would be refused as they violate religious freedom.
Disputes about implementing policies supportive of LGBTQ students in Alberta have been ongoing for two years now. All 61 districts in the province submitted draft policies last March, but preceding these submissions there were debates in several Catholic systems. Particularly intense were disputes among the Edmonton Catholic School Board, whose meetings erupted in shouting and eventually necessitated outside mediation.
Alberta’s bishops weighed in, too, with one describing the LGBT guidelines as “totalitarian,” though the bishops eventually met with Minister Eggen. It should also be noted that the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District has spent nearly $400,000 defending its discriminatory firing of transgender teacher Jan Buterman.
The disputes in Alberta have been detrimental to students, faculty, parents, the church, and the wider community. Wells’ failing grades for these two districts may be deserved, but they should not be the case. Catholic education should receive straight A’s when it comes to welcoming and supporting its students–especially LGBTQ students. The good news is that it is never too late to reverse bad policies and renew a commitment to ensuring every student can flourish in Catholic schools.