Proposed legislation to protect GSAs

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The provincial government announced Nov. 2 it was introducing a new act aimed at protecting Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in Alberta’s schools.

“Our top priority is for all schools across Alberta to be safe and welcoming for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” David Eggen, Minister of Education, said during a press conference in Calgary Nov. 3. “Our government’s legislation would ensure just that. These amendments are intended to provide clarity and consistency to support students, families and school authorities.”

Under the new act – Bill 24: An Act to Protect Gay Straight Alliances – every publically funded school in Alberta would need to have a policy supporting the creation of GSAs. The act would require some changes to the Alberta School Act, including ensuring every student has the right to join a GSA without fear of being outted to their parents. The ability of the education minister to ensure schools are complying with the act would also be strengthened.

If passed, the amendments to the School Act would come into effect April 1, 2018, and schools would have until June 30, 2018 to make their policies on GSAs available to the public.

Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees Chair Todd Brand said it was too early for the board to comment on the proposed legislation.

“The Board has not yet had an opportunity to discuss Bill 24 so we do not have a statement at this time,” he said in an email to the Airdrie City View. “I will be happy to respond once more information has been made available to us from the Ministry and we have had a chance to discuss.”

The timing of the announcement coincides with the election of Jason Kenney to the leadership of the United Conservative Party (UCP) Oct. 28. On March 28, Kenney said parents should be told if their child joins a GSA. The next day, Eggen called Kenney’s comments “extremist.”

Eggen said a requirement that parents be notified may “out” students who have yet to tell their parents about their sexual orientation.

“If the government is compelling people to out those students in a very compromised situation, then they are only serving to make the situation even worse,” he said.

The NDP government seems to have taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen by including a requirement GSAs be protected from political interference in the proposed changes to the School Act.

Angela Spanier, RVS director of communications, said the division has been ahead of the curve on GSAs.

“Rocky View Schools works very hard to make its learning environments inclusive and supportive of all students. Long before legislation was passed, our schools established and supported GSAs,” she said in an email to the Airdrie City View.

Bill 24 will need to pass second and third reading in the legislature and get Royal Assent before it can pass into law.

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