Alberta's teachers have officially asked the province to drop amendments to its human rights legislation that would give parents the right to pull their children out of classes discussing religion, evolution, sexuality or sexual orientation.
On the weekend, delegates to the annual general meeting of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) passed a resolution asking the province to delete the section of the bill that contains the amendments. On Tuesday, ATA President Frank Bruseker sent a letter to Premier Ed Stelmach notifying him about the resolution and the teachers' concerns.
"Representatives of the teaching profession in attendance at the meeting are concerned about the negative effect the legislation will have on their lives as teachers," Bruseker writes.
"Our members continue to believe that existing legislation, the Guide to Education and the provisions established in the Code of Professional Conduct are sufficient mechanisms to ensure that teachers are respectful of their students and parents."
The proposed changes were part of amendments to Alberta's human rights legislation that granted protections to homosexuals, known as Bill 44.
But the changes also contain a provision requiring schools to notify parents in advance of "subject matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation," allowing them to have their children excluded from such discussions.
In late April, Stelmach told reporters parents could use the provision to pull their children out of discussions about evolution. But the minister responsible for human rights, Lindsay Blackett, said the opt-out option only applies for classes in religious instruction. Parents can't simply pull students out of classes that deal with issues they feel conflict with their religious beliefs, Blackett said in an interview with CBC News in early May.
Teachers worry the amendments will have a "chilling effect" on the classroom and could put teachers and school boards at risk of being prosecuted under the provincial Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act, according to an ATA submission on the Act sent to the premier earlier this month
Bruseker has urged Blackett to ask House Leader and Education Minister Dave Hancock to simply stop the bill from going forward.
"Let's just leave it alone," Bruseker said. "Let's consult with all the education groups whom are all equally upset. This is not just teachers who are upset but, indeed, others in the education sector as well."
Bruseker has asked teachers to also call or email their MLAs.
But people who support the parental rights amendment are urging the government to follow through with the bill. Rev. Tim Seim, president of the Alberta Church Executive Fellowship, said parents will lose their faith in public education if the government backs down.
"If you eliminate the role of parents in the education of their children, I think you are taking a big step in the wrong direction," he said.
The legislature is on a break this week. MLAs are expected to continue the debate of Bill 44 next week.