Debbie Engel

Debbie Engel

October 12, 2015
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Trustees at Edmonton Catholic Schools are gearing up to vote for a new policy to protect transgender and other students at their schools.

The new policy, which is modeled after the Edmonton Public Schools' policy, will be ready for first reading at the board's Oct. 13 meeting.

"Our gender expression and identity policy will be modelled after the Edmonton's Public School's policy and is the kind of policy the Minister of Education wants to see," board chair Debbie Engel told the WCR Oct. 4.

"We will take their policy, but we will be massaging the wording to come in line with our Catholic faith."

At a recent board meeting, six of the seven trustees agreed the proposed policy would pass first reading, Engel said. One trustee didn't attend because he was sick.

Trustees have been working on the wording of the proposed policy, which Engel agreed to read over the phone.

"Catholic schools are places of both learning and believing. Our schools share a foundational belief that all children are loved by God, created in God's image and individually unique."

COMMAND RESPECT

"As such, all human being are inherently sacred and must be treated with respect."

The policy stresses that Catholic schools will not tolerate harassment, bullying , intimidation and discrimination on the basis of a person's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, Engel said.

Reading from the policy, the board chair said: "The board believes that all sexual and gender minority students and families have the right to be treated fairly, equitably and with dignity and respect and have their confidentiality protected and respected."

Engel said gender minority students should enjoy freedom of conscience, expression and association and be fully included and represented in an inclusive, positive and respectful matter by all school personnel.

EQUAL RIGHTS

"These students should also have equitable access to the same support services and protections provided to heterosexual students and families and have avenues of recourse without fear of reprisal available to them when they are victims of harassment."

To become a policy, this proposed policy needs three readings.

"We agreed to pass first reading (at the Oct. 13 meeting)," Engel said.

Before the policy goes to second and third reading, the board will hold district-wide consultations to get feedback from the community.

The Catholic School board has been on the defensive after their Sept. 15 meeting erupted into arguments over a new inclusivity policy, including whether transgender students can use washrooms of their choice in the city's Catholic schools.

After that meeting, Education Minister David Eggen threatened to intervene and dissolve the board if necessary. But he said he would wait until seeing a draft inclusivity policy for transgender students.

ASSURES MINISTER

In a Sept. 21 news conference, Engel sounded more upbeat, telling reporters she had recently spoken to Eggen and had assured him that "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."

At that news conference Engel also outlined how Catholic schools have worked with the family of the transgender student at the centre of the controversy, which began last spring shortly after the child made a formal transition from boy to girl.

Reading from a prepared statement, she said the school is doing everything it can to meet the needs of the transgender girl.

Engel also read a letter written by the teacher who taught the transgender child last school year, saying the girl was given the option to use one of the two all-gender bathrooms at the school, and by the end of the school year the child used the girls' bathroom.

TRUSTEE REBELS

Just prior to the controversial Sept. 15 board meeting, trustee Larry Kowalczyk said transgender students should be considered as having a mental illness and said he would not support a policy that would allow students to use a washroom designated differently from the gender they were born with.