There will be no or little change to how Okotoks area school boards will operate gay-straight alliances at their respective schools in light of the passing of Bill 24 last week.
“We will continue to provide a safe, caring environment for our students,” said Foothills School Division superintendent John Bailey. “We knew it was coming and obviously we will meet all the guidelines.”
The most contentious part of Bill 24, which was passed on Nov. 15, was that schools could not inform parents their children were members of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) unless the student was in imminent danger.
It was this policy that resulted in the new United Conservative Party voting against the bill, including Highwood MLA Wayne Anderson.
The vote in favour for Bill 24 was 42-23, with all those against coming from the UCP.
Anderson said he felt educators should have a greater say as to when parents are informed of their children’s activities.
“Not allowing parents to have any indication of what their child is doing in school is putting us in a precarious situation,” Anderson said. “I think professional educators, not politicians, are the best people to make decisions… the government is intruding on a parents’ right to know what is happening with their children.
“We never did suggest in writing or verbally at any time that we wanted to out gay kids, that’s not what we are trying to do. We need to protect all of our students… but you can’t exclude parents and teachers from communicating with each other if there is something amiss, if a child is being hurt, whether it is GSAs, playing football…”
Anderson said the NDP’s Bill 24 was akin to “cutting butter with a chainsaw,” because Bill 10 was already in place.
“Bill 10 was passed a couple of years ago it supports GSAs, we are in full-support of GSAs,” Anderson said.
At present all three high schools in the Foothills School Division have GSAs. The division had GSAs at schools before Bill 10, which allowed the formation of the inclusive club at the request of students, was passed in 2015.
All school divisions had to submit GSA policies to the provincial government as a result of Bill 10. Both Foothills and Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools received approval from the government for their guidelines.
At present, there are no GSAs at any of the four high schools in CTR Catholic, including Holy Trinity Academy in Okotoks and Notre Dame Collegiate in High River, according to superintendent Scott Morrison.
“We comply with the new law via our LIFE Framework by providing general notice in the school newsletter when a student group is formed,” Morrison said. “When working with our students on any complex issue, one of our focuses is always on how to coach and support them to open up a healthy dialogue with their parents or guardians who love and support them.”
Wade Westworth, the Alberta Teachers’ Association Foothills local president, said the passing of Bill 24 was not a surprise.
“Bill 24 is really just about making sure kids feeling safe and welcomed when they are at school,” said Westworth. “From an ATA perspective, we welcome Bill 24 because it provides clarity for teachers on what their responsibility is.”
He added his past experiences with GSAs are they are positive clubs at schools as they promote a safe environment for all students.