School board swings and misses
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 20, 2013 06:00 am
St. Albert’s public school board should be commended for addressing bullying and discrimination against students and staff who are gay, lesbian and transgendered, but the board’s recent pursuit of policy changes has unfortunately strayed into the territory of over-reaction and tunnel vision.
In the course of a scheduled review of two of its existing policies – the student conduct policy and the discrimination and harassment policy – the board is in the process of adding language to protect sexual minorities. The board is also pursuing a separate, stand-alone policy aimed specifically at protecting sexual minorities.
If all these changes go through as planned there will be three separate policies that provide protection to the aforementioned groups.
Proposed new wording in the discrimination policy is as follows: “the Board believes that discrimination or harassment on the basis of physical or mental disability, race, religion, ethnic origin, colour, creed or sexual orientation, including those who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual two spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation and gender expression, must not be tolerated.”
That’s one policy addressed.
A proposed draft of the student conduct policy states that the board is committed to “a safe and caring school environment” that’s “inclusive, equitable and welcoming for all” and that the board expects student diversity to be respected.
“This includes those students, staff and families who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” the draft policy reads.
That’s a second policy addressed.
And yet, a third, brand new policy, which will contain similar language, is being developed.
There’s no denying that sexual minorities are at risk. There is credible evidence suggesting that people belonging to these groups are at far greater risk of serious harm such as suicide.
However, the board’s actions in this instance are cause for concern.
By placing such a strong emphasis on a particular subset of its school population, the board is shining a spotlight on that group. This could have the unintended consequence of inviting more abuse on that group, or send the message that this group is somehow special or different.
Is that the message the board really wants to convey? Does it not believe that people, whether transgendered or otherwise, are simply people like everyone else?
It’s noteworthy that the changes proposed for the existing student conduct policy, as noted above, provide specific protection only on the basis of sexual orientation but not other criteria like race, religion, etc. The board is so focused on extending protection to sexual minorities that it’s missing an opportunity to draft a better, more comprehensive policy that reinforces its commitment to providing a safe, caring environment for everyone.
Certainly, if it’s found that a particular subset of the school population is being disproportionately targeted for discrimination, the school system can react with targeted programs to address the problem, but its guiding policies should provide equal protection to all.