Peace Wapiti School Division has sent its draft gender identity guidelines to the education minister. Superintendent Sheldon Rowe says they’ve accommodated LGBTQ students for a number of years, and the policy just puts what they’ve been doing into writing.
“The group that we’re talking about has significantly higher levels of anxiety at school; they have significantly higher levels of thoughts about suicide and there are significantly higher levels of attempts at suicide. So, it does make sense we do something extra to make sure when they get to our schools they feel safe.”
In it are provisions that gender-neutral washrooms and private change rooms be offered to any student that requests it. However, Rowe clarifies that no, a student can’t suddenly pick a change room of their choice.
“It’s a case where, if a student has lived that gender for a number of months and then needs a separate washroom, we’ll make that available. At the same time, if the time comes where they’re talking about moving into the girls’ bathroom, then we’ll make accommodations within the girls’ bathroom to ensure the privacy of all.”
The policy also sets out that if a student tells a teacher they identify as the opposite sex, they’ll be encouraged to tell their parents but they won’t be informed without their permission. They can also dress in an appropriate way for their gender identity, as long as it follows their school’s dress code.
One concern frequently brought up is that gender-based pronouns like him and her and mother and father will no longer be used by school staff. Rowe says students will be referred to by the gender pronoun they choose, and school-based communications already recognize that the definition of “family” changed a long time ago.
“Kids who call their parents ‘mom and dad’ will still call their parents ‘mom and dad’. When the school communicates, for years now we’ve always referred to our parents as parents; we don’t send home letters too often that say ‘dear mom, dear dad.’ We have a significant number of kids who no longer live with mom or dad; they live with grandparents, they live with guardians.”
Rowe says the guidelines are meant to balance respecting people’s privacy and having an open and safe environment for all children. The draft policy has been sent to the education minister and will be finalized by the board in June.