EDMONTON—The Alberta Teachers’ Association passed a resolution on Saturday urging the government to prohibit teachers from telling parents if their child is in a Gay-Straight Alliance in the forthcoming Education Act, but got little reassurance from the new minister of education on the UCP’s plans.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange spoke to the teachers association at their annual assembly on Saturday and used it as an opportunity to introduce herself.
She noted her background as a school trustee for the Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools for 11 years, and said her former job as a rehabilitative practitioner who worked with people with mental and physical disabilities was inspired from her experiences growing up with her younger brother, who was born with Down syndrome.
In her speech, she said the government is prioritizing funding for infrastructure and is committed to building new schools. She said they also plan to conduct an audit on funding previously dedicated to reducing class size, which was met with applause.
Premier Jason Kenney has said his party will proclaim the Education Act, previously passed by the Progressive Conservatives in 2012, but never proclaimed. It would replace Alberta’s School Act passed by the NDP, including Bill 24, which prohibited teachers from telling parents if their child is in a GSA.
“Teachers’ primary concern is always for the safety of his or her students and this was a big part of ensuring that safety … With that being lost in the proclamation of the Education Act, there is concern amongst teachers,” Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery said on Saturday.
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The resolution passed on Saturday asks the government to ensure changes in legislation don’t weaken provisions that protect teachers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, the right for students to form GSAs, or the right for those students to have their participation in a GSA kept private.
It passed nearly unanimously, with one person voting against it.
Speaking to reporters after her speech, LaGrange repeatedly said her government would be “looking at” protecting all students who participate in GSAs, but stopped short of making any commitments on prohibiting teachers from disclosing students’ participation in GSAs to parents.
“We will be looking at protecting all kids and looking after every one of them. That’s my commitment,” LaGrange said.
Jeffery said there were some “promising things” in LaGrange’s speech, particularly in relation to the curriculum review that Kenney has committed to. But he said there wasn’t any reassurance on GSAs.
“Not on the piece that contains the Education Act proclamation which would lose those protections on teachers not disclosing,” he said. “So that’s work we still have to do with this new government.”
He said the fact that only one person voted against the resolution on protecting kids and staff showed teachers are “hugely in favour” of the supports.
He said potential repercussions if teachers refuse to tell parents their kid is in a GSA puts instructors in a tricky situation and that students could be hesitant to join GSAs if they’re worried about being outed to their parents.
“I think we might see a lot of teachers trying to make sure they didn’t even know who’s participating in that GSA. That way they can say ‘I don’t know’ as a legitimate answer,” Jeffery said.
Although GSAs were a big talker at the assembly, Jeffery said the top of mind issue is always funding.
“There are concerns, we’re hearing rumours of cuts, boards are making announcements of million-dollar reductions in their budgets, but it’s all speculation at this point,” Jeffery said. “So we’re hoping we can change that before the provincial budget comes out.”
In her speech, LaGrange said the government wants to find efficiencies in the system by reducing overhead administrative costs. She told reporters she wasn’t in a position to comment on whether the government would be funding enrolment growth in the fall, but said funding will remain “the same or better.”
“I know there’s always apprehension when a new government comes into play,” LaGrange said.
“I am committed as the minister of education to providing the best possible education for our students,” LaGrange said. “And that means putting teachers in front of students, it means looking at all the pieces involved in education from funding to curriculum.”
Omar Mosleh is an Edmonton-based reporter covering inner-city issues, affordable housing and reconciliation. Follow him on Twitter: @OmarMosleh