A new proposal was tabled at the School Board meeting last week, one intended to make schools more welcoming to people of different sexual orientations.
School Board 27 Trustee Sheila Boehm made a motion directing staff to develop a policy based on the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) information that is being circulated towards educators in the province.
While the school district does have a current policy on “Safe, caring and orderly schools” that does speak to sexual orientation, Boehm thinks it isn’t enough, nor is it easy to find.
“It’s the bare minimum of what is required by the ministry [of education] to have. It could be so much better,” she told the Tribune.
The current policy’s preamble states that the Board of Education “recognizes and values the diversity found within its school communities,” and also recognizes that “students and other school community members identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex, queer or questioning face a unique set of challenges within our schools and communities.”
The policy itself speaks to human rights, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination generally, setting up guidelines for codes of content that include, race, sexual orientation and religion among other issues.
While the current policy does comply with the SOGI principles, Boehm is advocating for more. She looks to the Vancouver School Board as an example.
Their policy has one that speaks to lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) individuals specifically and includes policies that speak to counselling and student support for LGBTQ+ students, or those with family members as part of the community, looks at curriculum learning resources and addresses access to sex-specific classes and washrooms. It also has an additional section that includes definitions for the different types of sexual and gender identities.
The difference between Vancouver’s policy, and School District 27’s, said Boehm, is “night and day.”
Having a specific policy, she said, shows that the school board cares.
“We are looking at things that are important to the kids and the reason I am on the board are my kids and everyone’s kids — so they feel accepted and that everybody has a place where they are comfortable and safe and can be who they want to be.”
Additionally, she said, an extra policy would give students facing issues in the school something to go to.
“It gives students that place to look: what is the policy if they are being harassed. That there is someone that cares, that this is the policy, that everyone is accepted.”
At the board meeting, however, board chair Tanya Guenther introduced a competing motion.
“I can’t support [Boehm’s] motion because we currently have a policy that supports diversity and individuality and uniqueness of all our students,” she told the board. “I think we’ve put the cart before the horse again with this.”
Her motion, instead, directed staff to provide a presentation to the board at what is already happening within the school district with regards to the SOGI initiative.
“I think we need that info before I am interested in developing yet another policy because I’m not certain we have an issue that we need to develop another policy for.”
While no one on the board said they disagreed with the principles behind SOGI, Guenther’s motion was passed and Boehm’s was postponed to a meeting following a presentation from school district staff.
Boehm said she is frustrated with the outcome.
“You don’t need to wait to see if the staff think it’s important. I’m more of the opinion that the board should set the direction for staff,” she said.
“There is no reason we have to be the last one to come up with something like that. Why can’t we be one of the first? You can always modify and change a policy.”
She said she’s seen the need from people, patients and students in the community that she’s talked to, in her capacity as a board trustee, parent and chiropractor.
“I’ve spoken with people that are a part of our district and often feel sidelined and not understood and that are going through these things or those who are transgender and went through our school district and never felt at home in our school district.”
Williams Lake Pride group organizer, Willa Julius, who went through the school system in Williams Lake said the policy is a good idea.
While she says that there has been improvement in the schools for LGBTQ+ students, there is still room for more.
“If a policy is to be created I think a big part of that policy should be education. Education of what these gender identities mean, what the sexual orientations mean and just making it so it’s not a scary idea and making it so people who are heterosexual do understand what the community means.”
She said that there is still confusion about what different identities mean and that helping people to understand should be a big goal.
“I do think a lot of the discrimination and a lot of the bullying that may occur does happen because of ignorance and not understanding.”
More important than developing a policy, she said, is making sure students and parents know a policy like that exists.
“Making it known that it exists provides a safe space.”