Richmond School Board to create distinct LGBTQ policy

The Richmond School Board has voted to create a distinct policy on sexual orientation and gender identity — but some parents are expressing concerns.

Debbie Tablotney, chair of the board, says the move is about supporting students.

"This policy will help anybody that's working with students understand the diversity in our classrooms and how to make each and every student feel welcome, comfortable and supported."

In September 2016, Education Minister Mike Bernier ordered school boards across the province to include explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies.

Tablotney said her school board is working on adding that language to the existing code of conduct, but said this stand-alone policy is different.

"The code of conduct is about behaviour towards each other and behaviour expectations," she explained. "This policy is is different because it will help our school administrators and councillors."

The school districts of Vancouver and Surrey both have their own LGBTQ policies, as well as a number of other districts across the province. 

Parents' group send letter with concerns

The decision has some detractors including a Richmond parents group, "Parents Care", that has voiced opposition to this policy.

In an open letter, they said that a specific LGBTQ policy is exclusionary and unfair to other minority groups.

"Any policy that implies the notion of a special group, or gives subtle effect to the idea a distinct group or privileged class is exclusionary, no matter how incidental or unintended this effect might be," the group wrote.

The letter also expressed concerns with transgender students using washrooms of their choice.

Tablotney disagreed with the suggestion the policy privileged a special group, saying the school has separate policies for many students such as First Nations learners or students with disabilities.

As for the washrooms, she said some schools have already taken steps to accommodate transgender students' choices.

"At this point, it is being set up in an individual basis in consultation with administrators and counsellors."

Regardless, she said parents are welcome to express their concerns.

"They have certainly been out to our public meetings and we do have policy on policy development and revision which includes consultation and feedback mechanisms."

Tablotney said policy development will take some time. The draft policy will go out for consultation and feedback before it is finalized and submitted for final board approval.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Richmond School Board votes to create distinct LGBTQ policy