Abbotsford school district fails to meet deadline for LGBTQ policy

Board of education plans to discuss draft of new policies at meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 7

Kevin Godden

Kevin Godden

Abbotsford is one of two B.C. school districts without explicit protections for gay, lesbian and transgender students in its anti-bullying policies, after missing a Dec. 31 deadline set by the province.

In September 2016, Education Minister Mike Bernier announced the requirement, giving districts until the end of the year to pass new policies and administrative procedures.

The Nisga’a school district has also yet to pass such a policy but is working on it, according to a ministry of education spokesperson.

Superintendent Kevin Godden said Abbotsford board of education trustees and staff plan to discuss a draft of new policies at its Feb. 7 policy committee meeting.

“A conspiracy of circumstance” prevented Abbotsford school district from meeting that deadline, Godden said.

A draft of new procedures was set for discussion at a policy committee meeting on Nov. 1, 2016, but that meeting was cancelled due to the double stabbing that killed one student at Abbotsford Senior Secondary the same day.

The draft will be discussed at the district’s Feb. 7 policy meeting and will likely come before school trustees at their next public meeting on Feb. 21.

Godden said he could not divulge any details of the draft policy before it is presented to trustees.

There are currently no district policies in place requiring teachers to address transgender students by their chosen names and pronouns but Godden said that “will be and should be contemplated as part of this policy.”

Brandon Yan, education director with Out in Schools, pointed out that it is now considered discriminatory under the B.C. Human Rights Code to address someone using pronouns other than those they choose or prefer.

“Every student deserves to be respected as their true and authentic selves,” he said in an email.

Out in Schools has made presentations to receptive audiences in Abbotsford schools on several occasions, Yan said.

“We use queer, trans, and two-spirit films, personal stories, and facilitated discussion to equip youth with an understanding of sexual and gender diversity and to give educators the resources to create more inclusive classrooms,” he said.

Like the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, anti-discrimination policies may be “just words in an official document” but both can have significant impact on people’s lives, Yan said.

Two recent studies found specific anti-discrimination policies that protect marginalized groups are effective in lowering rates of reported discrimination, suicidal thoughts and attempts among lesbian, gay and bisexual students and teachers, Yan said.

The Abbotsford community at large has room for improvement when it comes to inclusion but it is also “far ahead of some other places,” Yan said. “Abbotsford should be proud but should continue to ensure all its students and citizens feel accepted, included, and embraced.”