With the recent announcement from Education Minister Dustin Duncan regarding new parental inclusion and consent policies for Saskatchewan schools, various organizations, such as the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, and Saskatchewan Advocate for Children & Youth have responded expressing their frustrations with the new policies.
The new policies set in place as of August 22 are:
- Schools must seek parent/guardian permission when changing the preferred name and pronouns used by students under the age of 16 in the school
- Parents/guardians must be informed about the sexual health education curriculum and have the option to decline their children's participation
- Boards of education must immediately pause involvement with any third-party organization, such as ARC Foundation and the SOGI 1 2 3 Program, connected to sexual health education as the ministry undertakes review of educational resources to ensure alignment with curriculum outcomes. Only teachers, not outside third-parties, will be able to present sexual education materials in the classroom. This directive does not include professionals employed by government ministries or the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation released a statement on August 22, stating the new policy is “dangerous” and “harmful to students”, stating that similar policies in other provinces have been analyzed by child advocates and deemed unconstitutional.
“This policy raises questions of human rights and is in opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” stated the STF in a release, calling the new Ministry of Education policy “a massive overreach and an attempt by the government to react to recent by-election losses.”
The STF states that the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation; Saskatchewan School Boards Association; League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents; Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials; and even representatives from the Ministry of Education, have been working together with an organization called the ARC Foundation to plan a pilot program for some Saskatchewan schools utilizing their resources in a program called SOGI 123 (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity), and that with the stroke of a pen, the Minister has unilaterally cancelled this program for Saskatchewan students.
“This is a political response to a government losing support in a by-election to a far-right party, following an isolated incident,” said Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Samantha Becotte. “Once again, as with this government’s recent advertising campaign on teacher salaries, we are seeing education issues being tossed around like political footballs.”
In a letter to the Minister of Education dated August 15, the STF cautioned the Minister on making “political knee-jerk reactions to a one-time event that might affect approved resources,” and that politicizing the classroom is a dangerous path to take.
“Today’s announcement further indicates that the Saskatchewan Party is using education as a political weapon. Research from organizations like Egale Canada is clear; when students do not feel safe and supported in schools, they face a higher instance of issues ranging from anxiety and depression to self-harm, suicidality, addiction, and homelessness. This is in addition to bullying, shame, and discrimination they may experience while in school,” stated the STF release.
“Parents and guardians must always play a role in the educational lives of children. However, to suggest this is the motivation for these announcements stretches the Minister’s credibility considerably,” said Becotte. “Government states that they believe in safe and caring schools, and yet student safety and quality of education are being sacrificed to meet this government’s political needs.”
The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Lori Jogb released a statement regarding the matter, stating, “Outing children as part of a political gamble is violent and despicable.”
“I just learned about this policy in the media and have not been privy or advised of these changes,” stated The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, Dr. Lisa Broda. “I am deeply troubled by the impact this policy will have on the rights of children in Saskatchewan. Any new policy, legislation, law, or practice that may impact children and their rights compels me, under my legislative authority, to review and advise on such matters.”
A release from the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth states that the advocate will review this new policy against the backdrop of children’s rights under The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which was ratified by Canada in 1991.
“As the Advocate, I must ensure the voices of young people are heard and that their rights are being upheld,” stated Broda. “If a mature minor can make significant decisions related to their medical care under the age of 16, it would stand to reason that they could make a determination as to whether they wish to be referred to by a different pronoun, without undue interference.”
Broda says there is no question that there are significant risks to the mental and physical safety of gender and sexually diverse youth who are not supported to express their authentic selves and their safety and well-being need to be at the forefront of any policy.
“This change in policy must be fully evaluated against all relevant children and youth rights. There may have to be a balancing of competing rights but ultimately, we will advocate for children and youth to feel safe and supported in their school environments and have a voice in matters that affect them, without fear of discrimination, intolerance, or retribution,” stated Broda.
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