Minister confident transgender policy coming

EDMONTON – Alberta’s education minister says he’s confident Edmonton Catholic Schools is on the path to creating a policy that protects transgender students.

Dave Eggen sat down Wednesday with several board members at the legislature, following an unruly public board meeting last week.

One trustee told media before the Sept. 15 public meeting that he saw being transgender as a “mental disorder” and another cried over accusations that she was homophobic.

Eggen issued a warning the next day that there would be consequences if board members didn’t “get their acts together.”

After meeting behind closed doors with board members for an hour, Eggen said he had been assured the board will improve its functioning and craft a respectful policy.

“I am confident that this board will take steps to improve their capacity to work through decisions. There’s always differences of opinion. I’m used to that — I work in the legislature — but it has to be not dissolving into acrimony.”

The school board has been working for months on a policy after a human rights complaint was filed by the family of a seven-year-old transgender girl.

The child wants to use the girl’s washroom in her school instead of one designated as gender-neutral.

Her mother has said school officials are allowing her to use the girl’s washroom, but that a policy still needs to be in place to prevent discrimination and segregation.

Board chairwoman Debbie Engel said Eggen expressed his disappointment Wednesday with trustees and she agreed that “tempers got in the way.”

“I think a lot of points were made today about how that can’t happen again and how no matter how emotionally charged you are on an issue, we still have to follow a certain decorum.”

Engel said she didn’t know if Larry Kowalczyk, the trustee who remarked that transgender people have a mental illness, had apologized. He wasn’t speaking on behalf of the board, she added.

Kowalczyk didn’t attend the meeting with the minister, she said, because he was at home recovering from an injury.

Engel expects a policy will be put forward next month that is similar to one created a few years ago by Edmonton Public Schools. The division was the first on the Prairies to develop a stand-alone sexual orientation and gender-identity policy.

Kris Wells with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies has called on the government to implement a provincewide policy that would apply to all schools. He says eight of the province’s 61 school divisions have such policies. None is Catholic.

Eggen said he’s leaving it in the hands of democratically elected school officials to build their own policies. He hopes the struggle with Edmonton Catholic will act as a “teaching moment” and get other school boards working on policies too.