Debbie Engel speaks to reporters.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Debbie Engel speaks to reporters.

September 28, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

The chair of the board of Edmonton Catholic Schools is promising a new transgender policy by October.

Debbie Engel said she recently assured Education Minister David Eggen that there will be consensus on a transgender policy at the October board meeting.

Meanwhile, the transgender girl in question is having all her needs met by the school she attends, Engel told reporters.

The board has been in hot water since Sept. 15, when its meeting dissolved into a shouting match between trustees over a draft policy that would allow students access to the washrooms, change rooms and sports teams that match their gender identities.

The policy was developed after a mother protested her seven-year-old transgender daughter was banned from using the female washrooms at her school. She was told to use a gender-neutral washroom instead.

Eggen has said he is prepared to take action if trustees can't agree on a transgender inclusiveness policy.

At a news conference, Engel said, "Please know that a board policy (on transgender students) is still extremely important but has not prevented schools from working to meet the needs of each of our transgender students."

She said the district's practice is for the school involved to work with the family of the transgender student and have ongoing dialogue with the family, school and student. "Every decision made is the result of a collaborative ongoing dialogue with the family," the board chair said at the Sept. 21 news conference.

NEEDS MET

During the press conference at the district's offices, Engel listed a number of things the school has done in meeting the needs of the transgender elementary student:

  • All staff refers to her by her chosen name and has from the first day of her formal transition, right after spring break.
  • She uses the girls' washroom and also has the option of using the all-gender washroom, as do all students. All-gender washrooms are in place at all schools in the district.
  • She is treated as a girl and has been since she transitioned after spring break of the 2014-15 school year.
  • Staff at the school has also received sensitivity training to ensure the child has a caring and respectful transition.

Engel noted the district has received criticism that it "outed" the child. "Given the nature of the timing of the transition, with the student remaining in the same class and school community, the transition was already public," she pointed out.

To the board's knowledge, there are no outstanding issues in meeting the transgender child's day-to-day needs, the board chair said in a brief prepared statement.

"We have used ongoing collaborative dialogue for many years in meeting the individual needs of each of our transgender students."

Engel said schools are guided by District Administrative Policy 138, which says: "All students, staff, and families of Edmonton Catholic Schools will be provided with an inclusive, welcoming, caring, respectful, safe, and Catholic environment that promotes the well-being of all and fosters community support for achieving this goal."

Engel also read a letter from an anonymous teacher that taught the transgender girl in 2014-15. In it, the teacher explains that after the spring break, all the students were introduced to two all-gender bathrooms.

The girl appeared excited to visit one of these bathrooms, which required the user to take a take a buddy with them.

"The child voluntarily chose any student to walk with," the teachers said.

"Oftentimes when leaving to attend the bathroom she held hands with her partner and skipped together out of the room smiling. "

Towards the end of the school year, "The child attended the girls' bathroom right by our classroom and was just happy to attend the girl's bathroom," the anonymous teacher said. "Nothing but love and acceptance was shown here at our school."

SPOKEN TO MINISTER

In answering question from reporters, Engel said she had recently spoken to Eggen and had assured him, "I felt that there would definitely be a will of the board to come to a consensus with the stand-alone transgender policy at the October meeting.

"He seemed happy with that and said he did not feel that the policy in place was sufficient. He just said he would be taking action; he did not go into any detail."

The chair of the board noted only five of 61 boards across the province have transgender policies "so I think we are well ahead of the mark."