School district green lights development of a policy for LGBTQ students

  • Feb. 4, 2015 4:06 p.m.

The Red Deer Public School district is moving forward with the development of a comprehensive policy that will address the needs of LGBTQ students and staff.

The policy will help to ensure a safe environment for students/staff to be treated with equality, dignity and respect, said Bev Manning, the district’s board chair.

In addition to that it is expected to address Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs, curriculum, education, professional development and other related areas.

According to a district release, research has indicated that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning (LGBTQ) students are a vulnerable population and often times have negative school experiences.

Sexual and gender minority youth often encounter multiple risk factors and have fewer protective factors, officials say.

“I don’t think there was one particular thing that happened that created the discussion – but it’s been out there in the media with the government discussion of Bill 10 and the kerfuffle that they were going through. So around our board table, the topic came up and we had a couple of trustees who felt quite passionately that it was something we needed to create a policy on,” she said.

There is currently a policy in place that is designed to deal with discrimination, harassment and violence, ensuring students and staff have a right to learn and work in a safe environment and are treated with equality, dignity and respect.

“That’s just kind of a generic, general policy on how we felt we should deal with those issues in our district should they arise. Basically, as governors, that’s what our job is to do – provide policy, guidelines and structure for people to operate under so that the district can run fairly, honestly and safely,” she said.

But district officials felt these may not adequately address the needs of LGBTQ students and staff. It was also recommended a specific Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy and procedures would provide teachers and administrators with the necessary knowledge, strategies and resources to support these individuals.

“The board felt it was appropriate at this point to undertake the discussion whether or not, first of all, do we need a specific policy that dealt with our gender minorities. Or did we just need to broaden the diversity of what we’ve already got and talk about the diversity of our population.”

The board directed the superintendent to develop a policy addressing the needs of sexual orientation and gender minorities. “It’s also about looking at the whole issue in a more comprehensive manner. There’s a lot of other things around it other than GSAs.

“Students aren’t coming to us in droves asking for GSAs; they’re just asking to be treated like people,” she said.

“I think when we talked with our students, they were more of the mindset of let’s not talk about how we are different, let’s talk about the fact that we are all people and there’s a lot of things we have in common and that we need, and that includes love, nurturing and respect and for someone to care about what our needs are, and to be able to help us meet them.”

Students were also a key part in helping to set the parameters of what a policy should ultimately focus on, she added.

Moving ahead, Manning said the policy should be back before the board within a couple of months. “We do have a process for policy development and approval. So it will come back to us for a reading and a review, and if we are happy with it we will likely send it off to our stakeholders for further input.”