WRSD Board Chair urges support for Bill 24

By Laine Mitchell (Twitter: @Laine_Mitchell)
November 15, 2017 - 6:04am Updated: November 15, 2017 - 9:27am

The chairperson for Wild Rose School Division's Board of Trustees will be voicing his support for Bill 24 and new policies that may arise around gay-straight alliances (GSA) at the upcoming Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) fall general meeting. 

Russ Hickman said he will be supporting a motion like the one the Edmonton Public School Board will reportedly be bringing forward at the ASBA meeting on Monday calling for all school boards across the province to support GSA’s and Bill 24.

"Every school that accepts public dollars is bound by this same requirement. I don't think it's healthy for other school system to have different standards in this area," said Hickman. 

Hickman supports the idea that students who join GSAs in school should not be outed without their permission, adding that the support received by a student in one should work as the stepping stone toward making them comfortable with themselves.

"I think GSA's provide valuable support for students to get confidence and the courage and ability to talk about these issues with their families, and I think that's where the disclosure should be coming from." 

He fears that if a student thinks there’s a chance they will be outed due to joining a GSA or a similar club, they won’t join and will lose out on the support they may need. 

"LGBTQ+ are a vulnerable population, especially in high schools. They are at a crucial time in their lives and our job as educators is to provide support. GSA's have proven effective at providing that support," he says. "If a student feels that their participation in one might provide consequences, then they may not go and that support is not available. I know from 30 years teaching experience of student suicide, depression around these issues and that's something that GSA's can help avoid."

Since the spring of 2016 WRSD has enforced Policy 20, created in response to Bill 10 which required all school divisions across the province to create a policy on safe, caring, welcoming and respectful environment and allowing GSA's to be established and called that. 

Hickman added that most of Policy 20 is in compliance with Bill 24, making the argument that 99.9% of it is there already and they are "within the spirit of Bill 24."

"Wild Rose has a strong policy. We haven't looked at it thoroughly, we might have to tweak it a little to come into the spirit of Bill 24 but it was submitted to the education minister, no negative comments were received and we're proud of it."

As for the other members on the board, Hickman said he couldn't speak for their support on GSA issues but did add that judging from past policies passed by the board, it's an indicator on how they could vote. 

WRSD currently has two GSA's, one at Frank Maddock High School in Drayton Valley and one at West Central High School in Rocky Mountain House. 

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