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Alberta students to define their own gender: 5 big changes in new school guidelines

Education Minister David Eggen spells out policies for student choice in washrooms, sports teams and pronouns

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen

Education Minister David Eggen speaks to reporters about the new policy guidelines on gender expression for Alberta schools. (CBC)

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Schools should erase old divides that force students into male and female roles, according to new guidelines released Wednesday by the Alberta government that advise teachers to let kids choose which washroom they want to use and what name appears on their report cards.

A 21-page document, introduced by Education Minister David Eggen, advised educators that students have the right to self-identify when it comes to their gender identity and gender expression.

The practical implications for school operations could prove to be vast and lead to fundamental changes in the way children are educated in Alberta.

Here are five particularly significant components of the new guidelines. We've also included a copy of the entire document at the end.

1. Pick your own pronoun

The guidelines advise teachers to address each student by whatever name — and pronoun — that particular student chooses, based on how the student self-identifies.

"All individuals have the right to be addressed by their chosen name and to choose pronouns that align with their gender identity and/or gender expression," the document states.

It goes on to say: "Some individuals may not feel included in the use of the pronouns 'he' or 'she' and may prefer alternate pronouns, such as 'ze,' 'zir,' 'hir,' 'they' or 'them,' or might wish to express themselves or self-identify in other ways (e.g., Mx. instead or Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss, or no prefix at all)."

Legal names are still to be used by default for a school's local student information system and on official transcripts, credentials and provincial assessments.

School staff are encouraged to use students' preferred names on a day-to-day basis, however, including on written report cards, and to refrain from attaching "male" or "female" to students' names in school records.

"When creating student/staff lists, school staff ensure gender designations are not included either beside individual names or as a composite number for the group," the document states.

2. Play for the boys or girls team

As much as possible, the guidelines call for the elimination of separate activities for students based on gender.

"For example, they avoid structuring courses or activities based on gender-specific roles such as 'boys' versus 'girls' in academic, athletic or talent competitions," the document states.

When it comes to sports teams, in particular, the guidelines say students should be "given the opportunity to participate on the team that reflects their gender identity and expression."

Students who do not feel comfortable in a group setting should also be given the option for "independent study to earn physical education credits," the document advises.

3. Use male or female washrooms, or neither

It should be up to each individual whether they use a washroom designated for males or females, according to the guidelines.

Specifically, the document states that students should be "able to access washrooms that are congruent with their gender identity."

In addition, schools are advised to provide at least one "non-gendered, single-stall washroom for use by any student who desires increased privacy, regardless of the reason."

This type of washroom should be also be "easily accessible" and, ideally, schools should provide several such washrooms for all students, staff and visitors to use.

4. Pick the change room you prefer

When it comes to change rooms, all students are to have access to "facilities that meet their individual needs and privacy concerns."

This could include a private area with a common change room or a separate area, such as a nearby washroom, for students to use if they don't want to change with the group.

This also applies to any student "who objects to sharing a washroom or change-room with a student who is trans or gender-diverse," or in the event that a parent or caregiver objects on behalf of a child.

In such cases, the student with an objection would be offered an alternative location to change in.

School staff should take a "whole-school approach" to ensuring all students have safe changing spaces, the guidelines advise, including "communicating clear behaviour expectations to all students, increasing adult presence and supervision, and monitoring key areas of the building and grounds."

5. Establish gay-straight alliances

Now that gay-straight alliances (GSAs) have been made mandatory at any school where students want one, school staff are advised to support the establishment of the support groups whenever students express an interest in creating one.

It's also to be made clear to students that they have this right.

People in positions of authority over school staff members, themselves, are also advised to "anticipate, support and value staff diversity, including diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions."

Staff should also be supported to serve as a liaison for student-organized support groups such as GSAs, according to the guidelines.

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