All people deserve equal respect
There seems to be an increasingly widespread assumption that respect and protection for all somehow diminishes respect and protection for a particular group.
As a teacher and a parent, I believe it is important to challenge this assumption and consider another approach when it comes to the provincial government’s requirement that all school boards develop sexual orientation and gender identity policies by March 31.
Children should be taught that we must show respect to all people. Period. I believe that as soon as we begin to qualify the “all,” we risk drawing lines, defining categories and creating labels and division. Children must learn that a right to respect comes along with a responsibility to show it.
We are diverse in a multitude of ways, and our diversity gives us an opportunity to grow and learn from each other. Belonging and acceptance are nurtured when we help students look for what connects us, instead of what divides us. A goal of our education system should be to encourage the development of citizens who are able to sit down with anyone, no matter how seemingly different they are, and be able to find some commonality in their human experience that connects them.
Based on these beliefs, I am encouraging Albertans to advocate that the government not require school boards to create and differentiate specific policies along lines of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Instead, the provincial government should ensure all school boards have a policy in place that helps ensure their schools are welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments for ALL students. Period. Furthermore, instead of dealing with specific accommodations for the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity on a policy level (i.e. pronouns, washroom/change room use, participation in sports teams, etc.), these accommodations and supports should be offered on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with all concerned parties, including the student, guardians, school staff and medical professionals.
This approach is consistent with the procedures already existing in schools to provide individualized supports and accommodations to a tremendous variety of emotional, physical, cognitive, social or learning needs that support vulnerable, at-risk students in our schools every day.
For example, consider the number of students diagnosed with autism, depression, anxiety, oppositional defiant disorder, mild cognitive disabilities, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities, hearing impairments, mobility challenges, etc.
These all represent populations of students who are vulnerable and at risk, yet school staff strive to effectively, compassionately and sensitively deal with providing supports every single day, without specific school board policies in place for each of these struggling groups.
School boards and all staff should continue to ensure that bullying and discrimination on any grounds is dealt with promptly, with clearly communicated and consistent consequences.
Respect for everyone should continue to be an expectation in all our schools, and in our society.
Teacher with Edmonton Public Schools, currently on leave
[Published letters represent the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Alberta Teachers' Association]