Delegates to the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s 102nd Annual Representative Assembly would be forgiven if they felt a sense of déjà vu on Sunday evening.
A resolution on mandatory sex education featured passionate, thoughtful debate, concluding with a close vote, much like last year. This year, however, the discussion resulted in a decision to affirm the rights of parents to exclude their children from instruction related to human sexuality.
One speaker said that a policy to mandate sex ed would drive some parents in her community to withdraw from public education, ultimately decreasing the level to which these students complete school.
“If we tell the Mennonite parents that sex education is mandatory, they will simply respond by pulling their children out of public school and they will go back to being educated in the church basement by the girl who passed grade 6,” the speaker said.
Speakers arguing against the resolution were similarly passionate and well-prepared.
“Public education and the competencies students need to graduate with are a nexus of ideas where knowledge is built as a community and parental preference is part of a discussion, not a veto,” said one delegate.
“Legislating the requirement that a parent can opt-out their child creates a state-sanctioned norm that censorship of certain topics within public institutions is acceptable, further undermines the professional judgment of teachers as educators and causes us to abandon the central purpose of public education.”
Resolution 2-23, put forward by Westwind Local No. 12, was adopted. Because it takes a position that is contradictory to Resolution 2-15 of 2018, that policy will be struck from the Association’s handbook.
ARA 2018 passed Resolution 2-15/18:
Be it resolved that the Association urge the Government of Alberta to amend section 50.1(1) of the School Act to mandate that all K–12 students, without exception, who attend schools that receive public funding complete the human sexuality component of the relevant program of studies.
ARA 2019 passed Resolution 2-23/19:
Be it resolved that the Alberta Teachers’ Association affirm and respect the right of individual parents to exclude their children from participation in instructional activities relating to human sexuality.
Rural education and women in leadership
Another resolution that generated significant discussion related to funding for rural education. Resolution 3-27 called on the government to engage the ATA, school boards and the public in the development of a rural education strategy that would ensure students continue to have access to high-quality education in rural areas.
The discussion was not divided, as all speakers spoke in favour of the motion, but it provided an opportunity for teachers to share their experiences.
“Rural Alberta is a war zone and it’s almost like third-world education, it is so different,” said one speaker. “And if you don’t believe me I would love for you to come out and do my job for a day because I just want a prep period.”
Delegates also passed three resolutions (2-13, 3-11, 3-17) related to women in leadership. For starters, the Status of Women Committee will be created and funded. And the Association will host a women’s leadership symposium in the 2019/20 school year to promote gender equity and women’s participation in all aspects of employment and Association life.
This issue has been discussed at ARA in previous years but failed to garner enough support to move forward. This time delegates supported the resolution after considerable debate.
“Not all women need supports, but some do. And those are the women I'm speaking for today,” said one speaker.
“We need to make sure that we, as a predominantly female organization, stand up and say ‘we count and we matter,’” said another.
Two emergent resolutions were put forward by delegates from the floor of the assembly and passed with unanimous support.
Resolution 4-1 recommends that the Government of Alberta should amend provincial smoking legislation to regulate vaping products in the same way that tobacco is regulated. The mover from Calgary Public Local No. 38 noted that in response to growing vape use amongst students, the Alberta School Boards’ Association also recently passed policy calling for tighter regulation of vaping.
Resolution 4-2 responded to news items from earlier this year that some school boards were using employment contracts for teachers that contained overly restrictive Catholicity clauses. It urges the Government of Alberta to ensure employment contracts do not infringe upon the individual human rights of a teacher.
Delegates also supported a resolution supporting the collective bargaining rights of all unionized workers, including the ability to engage in fair arbitration free from government interference. Resolution 3-33 was put forward by Provincial Executive Council in response to news that the arbitration process being used to settle salaries for nurses in their negotiations with Alberta Health Services has been interrupted by the new government.
A number of PEC-sponsored resolutions passed by the Assembly focused on other issues brought up by the United Conservative Party in the recent provincial election. Resolution 3-24 says that the government should ensure that legislative changes do not diminish protection provided to teachers and students who identify as sexual or gender minorities, including the rights of students related to GSAs.
One resolution called for education funding to account for inflationary and cost growth pressures, while another called for the full funding of student enrolment increases. Supports for inclusion, class size reduction, school nutrition programs and policies guiding teacher growth, supervision and evaluation also featured in other policy passed by the assembly.