ATA News

Planned trans policy calls for varied response


Question: I am very upset about the premier’s recent announcement about trans students. I am concerned about the effect it may have on vulnerable students and about how it will affect me as a teacher. What does the Alberta Teachers’ Association intend to do?

Answer: The premier’s recent announcement is deeply concerning. Despite her assertion that this is just about protecting “parental rights,” the policy targets a tiny minority of students for crass political advantage. While the “problem” that Smith is trying to solve is one of her own invention, her proposed “solution” will have more serious and broad effects. It will put at risk the lives, safety and security of transgender students while intimidating all vulnerable minorities (including members of the gender and relationship-diverse community), diminish teachers’ exercise of their professional judgment, and undermine the civic virtues of respect for diversity and human rights that are the foundation of public education. 

Going forward, the Association’s response will reflect several different strategies and approaches.

The Association’s initial response was delivered by ATA president Jason Schilling in public statements that focused on teachers’ concern for the safety of transgender students and on their own professional and legal obligation to create for all students “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments that respect diversity and nurture a sense of belonging and a positive sense of self” [Education Act, Preamble]. Schilling stressed that teachers respect and encourage parents’ desire to be involved in and support their children’s education while decrying the government’s attempt to drive a wedge between teachers and parents and to undermine confidence in the province’s public school system.

Going forward, the Association’s response will reflect several different strategies and approaches.

First of all, the Association will directly resist and oppose the policy direction announced by government. This we will do by working with like-minded organizations with the intention of helping the public to understand teachers’ concerns and to mobilize popular opposition. An opportunity may also arise for persons or parties directly affected to challenge the resulting legislation in the courts, potentially providing the Association and other allies an opportunity to intervene. Although resistance can help keep this issue live in political discourse, the strategy entails a long-term commitment with uncertain outcomes and so it cannot be our only response.

We will also be offering moral, organizational and material support and encouragement to gender and relationship diverse teachers, students and community members. The Association already has teacher gay–straight alliances (GSAs), locally and provincially, to bring teachers together to coordinate and support each other and to organize constructive responses. We are also committed to supporting diverse students in their schools and classrooms and have created and distributed related resources.

Although the policy announcement sets out the government’s agenda, action in the form of legislation and regulation is still months away. We will take this opportunity to work with stakeholders and the government to shape implementation to mitigate its impact on teachers and students and to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, intrusions into the working lives of classroom teachers.

The Association will also protect and represent its members who might be caught up in the application of legislation or provincial or board regulations and policies arising from the premier’s announcement, in whatever venue. It is critical that any teacher who may be sanctioned by their employer, subject to a complaint before the Alberta Teaching Profession Commission or targeted for harassment contact the Association immediately for assistance.

The dark forces and influences that led the government to adopt this policy targeting a small and vulnerable group are likely to have still larger ambitions. We will, therefore, seek to protect and preserve other provisions in legislation, regulation and policy that are supportive of gender- and relationship-diverse students and teachers.

Finally, all of the efforts noted above, taken together will help to discourage the government from similar misguided policies and encourage it to support the principles of respect for diversity and inclusion that are the moral foundation of public education. ❚

ATA executive secretary Dennis Theobald
Dennis Theobald

ATA Executive Secretary