The Anglophone East district education council has repealed a motion that strengthened protections for LGBTQ students under New Brunswick's policy on gender identity and replaced it with one that goes further.
Council member Kristin Cavoukian said the step was taken because of the most recent changes Education Minister Bill Hogan made to Policy 713, which he first revised last spring to ban teachers from using a name or pronoun chosen by a child under 16 unless the parents consented.
Cavoukian said the motion, which was passed unanimously on Tuesday night, takes into account new information from child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock, who had reviewed the provincial policy during the summer and found it violated children's rights.
After Hogan's first revision of Policy 713, some district education councils passed motions that mandated school staff respect children's chosen names and pronouns, regardless of parental consent.
Concerns about legal 'hot water'
But Hogan tweaked the policy to make it clear teachers would need parental consent before verbally using names and pronouns chosen by students under 16.
Anglophone East district education council had to act again, Cavoukian said.
"According to Kelly Lamrock, who released an addendum after his initial report, the newer version of Policy 713 is in fact more explicitly discriminatory than the previous rewrite," she said.
Cavoukian said the council's policy is largely based on a report from child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock. (Radio-Canada)
"Things have gotten worse, not better, in terms of the legal hot water that teachers could find themselves in should they follow those directions."
But the original 2020 version of Policy 713 and the updated version allow district education councils to "develop policies and procedures that are consistent with, or more comprehensive than, this provincial policy," she said.
This is what the Anglophone East council's policy does, Cavoukian said.
"We believe that everything that is in our motion is either consistent with or more comprehensive or both," she said.
When your job is to look after students, potentially endangering them in order to alleviate some discomfort on the part of parents, I think is simply unfathomable - Kristin Cavoukian, Anglophone East district education council member
The council' latest motion makes clarifications in the provincial policy, which Cavoukian said was vague and inconsistent in places.
The clarifications include making it clear school personnel have to respect a student's chosen name and pronouns "while efforts to obtain consent to talk to the parent are being made." The motion says this addition is consistent with the Education Act.
One part of Policy 713 says students will be able to participate in activities that are safe and welcoming. The Anglophone East policy adds that safe and welcoming activities are those that allow all students to participate in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity.
Education Minister Bill Hogan made changes to Policy 713 last spring and clarified them later in the summer. (Mikael Mayer/Radio-Canada)
Cavoukian said this addition was needed because parts of Policy 713 conflict with other parts, and council wants personnel to have a "roadmap" if they run into these contradictions.
The final part of the motion explains what takes precedence when it comes to Policy 713 and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Human Rights Act, she said. The motion says the charter and Human Rights Act do.
Cavoukian said legally, this is an unnecessary distinction to make, but council wanted people who don't deal with legislation every day, or school officials, to easily have the information at their fingertips, she said.
Over the last few months, Hogan and Premier Blaine Higgs have defended the province's changes to Policy 713 as protections for parents' rights. Other politicians, students and community members are among those who have spoken out against them, saying the policy could now put some children at risk.
Cavoukian said it is a "no-brainer" to "err on the side of student safety" when it comes to Policy 713.
"To me, the whole reason that I serve on a district education council, and I believe this is true of my peers as well, is that we care very deeply about the safety of students and the quality of education that they receive in our schools," she said.
"When your job is to look after students, potentially endangering them in order to alleviate some discomfort on the part of parents, I think is simply unfathomable."