An open letter to all students, staff, and parents of the Horizon School Division

Recently the Minister of Education has released a document entitled “Guidelines for Best Practices: Creating Learning Environments that Respect Diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Expressions and Gender Identities” (https://education.alberta.ca/media/1626737/91383-attachment-1-guidelines-final.pdf). This document is intended to assist school authorities as they modify their policies to meet recent policy shifts in the Alberta Human Rights Act, Alberta Bill of Rights, and the provincial School Act. Every school jurisdiction within the province, whether public, separate, or private/Christian is required to amend their policies to comply with the changes in legislation and submit their modified policies to the Minister by March 31, 2016.

There seems to be some confusion with the public regarding requirements for policy that have been given to school jurisdictions by the Minister of Education.  The essence of the policy shift is that all schools have a legal obligation to ensure that every student is provided with a welcoming, safe, respectful, and caring learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging.

Media focus has been predominantly on the notion of washroom and change-room access and has created questions and concerns for parents as has media communicated that any male will now be able to go into any female washroom, when in fact the focus of the shift is on providing safe access to washroom and change-room facilities.

I would like to reassure the public that the government’s guidelines for best practice are just that; guidelines and 12 best practices. It is our intention to utilize these guidelines to engage students, staff, school councils, and other stakeholders to inspire dialogue about how we can ensure all students and staff are treated with dignity and respect and how we can actively include individuals in collaborative mutually supportive and interdependent decision-making.

Similar to all jurisdictions across the province we will be reviewing our policies (Policy IFC - Student Conduct and PolicyIFC -  Welcoming, Caring, Respectful, and Safe Learning Environments) and drafting a new policy; IHG - Gender Expression and Identity that complies with legislation while acknowledging local context with regard to the level of detail and specificity around the guidelines. The Board of Trustees of Horizon School Division is committed to providing a welcoming, caring, respectful, and safe learning environment that respects diversity, fosters a sense of belonging, and promotes student and staff wellbeing. We believe that the best way to do this is to take a whole-school approach that promotes healthy relationships and prevents and responds to bullying behavior. In such an approach issues are addressed on a case-by-case basis and solutions are evidence-informed and individualized to best meet the needs of the student making the request rather than a mandated black and white approach which may not meet anyone’s needs.

The initial opportunity for students, staff, and parents to provide feedback is through the policy committee. Once policy IHG is drafted and goes to the Board for first reading (February 23, 2016) we will be sending the policy out for further feedback and welcome your thoughts and comments. Those wishing to review the policy will be able to find it in the February Board Agenda available on the Horizon School Division website as February 23rd approaches.(http://www.horizon.ab.ca/view.php?action=documents&id=827)

Sincerely,

Dr. Wilco Tymensen

Superintendent of Schools