With at least one Alberta Catholic school division facing turmoil and scrutiny over student equality, the atmosphere in the local Catholic division is far less contentious.
Trustees with the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic School Division (STAR) have been ahead of the curve on the issue, developing procedures and policies on the subject as far back as 2006.
And when the provincial government adopted legislation and regulations last year regarding gender and sexual orientation, the STAR board had its policy and procedural amendments accepted by the Alberta Education.
The reason why the topic has once again come to the forefront is a battle among trustees in Edmonton on what rights should be accorded LGBTQ students as well as a report last week that demonstrated there remain some Catholic educators who refuse to accept any change to their community. Letters from both the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association and Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta attacked a University of Alberta professor, Dr. Kristopher Wells, after a review he penned on protecting sexual and gender minority rights panned two Alberta Catholic school divisions.
However, according to board chair Thalia Hibbs, there was never any issue with STAR trustees and the policy changes made still reflect the values and environment STAR promotes while protecting the rights of all students.
“The culture (of safe and caring schools) was already there and largely encompassed what was required under the new legislation,” Hibbs said in a phone interview.
“There were just some minor tweaks needed, it was all done in advance and Alberta Education was happy with what was done.”
Back in February and May of last year, STAR trustees approved revisions to Policy 20 (Safe and Caring Schools) and Administrative Procedure 160 (Safe and Caring Learning Environments for Students).
Both documents received Alberta Education approval by meeting the objectives laid out in Bill 10 and new regulations for safe and caring schools. Bill 10, which amended the Alberta Bill of Rights and three other acts to provide further protection to children, was passed in March 2015.
Hibbs feels it was a big plus for STAR to have policies and procedures for nearly a decade stating, “The changes that were made simply reiterated what was brought out in Bill 10. I think because it was already ingrained in our system that it wasn’t that difficult to do and, with the parental feedback, things have gone well.”
The revised Policy 20 was passed last May and indicates everyone will be treated with respect and dignity with no degrading, threatening, bullying or harassing behaviour tolerated. It also states trustees and staff will support all activity that further creates safe and caring schools as so far as it upholds Catholic teaching on social relationships, the sanctity of human life and respect for the human person.
The administrative procedure provides the details of how the superintendent, principals and staff are responsible for maintaining a safe and caring school environment, how the rights of parents and students must be protected, outlines the process that must be followed and potential consequences for any violations and how ‘co-curricular learning opportunities’ — better known as student clubs or groups — can be established.
However, the procedure explains that these groups shall enhance cause for promoting respect for the human person and must be approved by the principal. The request may be amended based upon its capacity to uphold the sanctity of human life through acts of justice and social action, while upholding the Catholic teaching on social relationships. Even the name of the group must receive the principal’s approval and must incorporate language in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church and the intent of the division’s policy.
In addition, the groups objectives must first be clarified by the principal to the staff advisor who will be present for all meetings and use the mission, vision and core values of the division, Catholic teaching on social relationships and the Catholic Church’s definition of chastity as a basis for advising students within their work.
Failure to adhere to these expectations or cooperate with the staff advisor will result in individual participation within the group being restricted or the dissolving of the group itself.