Question: What are the potential repercussions for teachers of the United Conservative Party’s plan to eliminate changes contained in Bill 24?
Answer: In its election platform, the UCP proposed to replace the existing School Act with the Education Act passed by the previous Progressive Conservative government in 2014, but never put into effect.
If the government were to proceed with this plan, important provisions implemented with the passage in 2017 of Bill 24 — An Act to Support Gay Straight Alliances — respecting the protection of gender minorities, the operation of gay–queer straight alliances (G/QSA) and the prohibition of the disclosure of a student’s membership in a G/QSA would no longer have effect. This is because Bill 24 amended only the School Act and not the Education Act.
Unless the Education Act is amended, the law in these matters would then revert to the terms set out in 2014 in
Bill 10 — An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children, which amended both the Education Act and the School Act.
At the time Bill 10 was being debated, the Association identified several areas in which the Bill 10 amendments fell short and called for new orders, regulations or legislation that would
- prevent the disclosure of a student’s membership in a GSA (or similar organization established under Section 35.1 of the Education Act) or participation in the organization’s activities to any person without the explicit prior consent of the student;
- confirm the right of the student(s) who request establishment of a GSA, or similar organization, to determine the final operational name of that organization;
- confirm the right of student members and teacher advisors to determine the purpose, activities, projects and undertakings of the GSA, or similar organization;
- protect principals and teachers who facilitate the creation or operation of a GSA, or similar organization, from employment discrimination or sanctions, formal or informal, related to their activities with the GSA, or similar organization; and
- affirm the right of denominational schools to require, as a condition of hiring or enrolment, a declaration of faith, but thereafter preclude discrimination on any protected ground, including sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Every one of these recommendations was taken up in Bill 24. Individually and collectively, the Bill 24 protections are important because they enable teachers (and other school staff) to facilitate G/QSAs while insulating them from undue pressure from parents, outside interest groups or their employer. In addition, Bill 24 extended to school staff protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation regardless of whether they worked in public, separate or francophone schools (and indeed the bill’s provisions, including that protection, also applied to private schools as well).
The loss of these additional protections would leave gender minority students, teachers and staff vulnerable and undermine the integrity of G/QSAs. The Association hopes to open a dialogue with the new government to ensure that schools remain welcoming and safe places for all, and the Annual Representative Assembly, which will convene on the May long weekend, will consider resolutions to affirm our purpose. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at Barnett House (email@example.com).