British Columbia

School board trustees opposed to SOGI have little power to change it

As B.C.'s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policy becomes a controversial election issue, school board trustees don't have the power to make significant changes to it.

'School boards do not have the power to resist,' says UBC professor

Anti and pro-SOGI protesters faced off in front of the B.C. Legislature on Saturday, Sept. 29. (CHEK )

As the municipal election draws nearer, B.C.'s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) framework has become a political flash point — but school trustee candidates don't have a lot of power to change it.

In 2016, the Ministry of Education required all schools to include sexual orientation and gender identity into their anti-bullying policies. Those themes have also been woven into B.C.'s new curriculum.

The point of the change is to reduce discrimination for students, especially those who identify as LGBTQ. The additions to the curriculum are designed to help students understand and respect diversity.

Last week, hundreds of people for and against SOGI in schools rallied in front of the B.C. Legislature. A number of school board trustee candidates in Metro Vancouver are running on campaigns to change the policy. 

One of the strongest voices against SOGI has been Burnaby school board trustee candidate Laura Lynn Taylor Thompson. She told CBC News it's the primary reason she is running for a position.

"I'm opposed to transgender training ... [and] going on about it. It's an ideology," Thompson said. "It shouldn't be out there."

Trustees have limited powers

But Jason Ellis, an assistant professor in the faculty of education at the University of British Columbia, says school board trustees, who are accountable to the provincial government, are limited to what they can do.

"School boards are creatures of the provinces and that means that provinces can wipe them out at their pleasure," Ellis said, noting the entire Vancouver School Board was fired by the B.C. Education Minister in 2016

School board trustees only have as much power as decreed by the provincial School Act.

SOGI vs SOGI 123

What is causing confusion during this election campaign, he says, is the distinction between SOGI and SOGI 123.

SOGI refers to the provincial policy around sexual orientation and gender identity, and SOGI 123 is a learning resource and tool kit offered by the Ministry of Education with ready-to-use lesson plans and learning modules aligned with the new curriculum. 

Trustees do have some measure of control over what learning resources to use, but not about the essence of what is taught, Ellis said.

"The directive from Victoria about the policy and the new curriculum is something school boards do not have the power to resist," Ellis said.

In other words, Ellis says, the most school board trustees opposed to SOGI can do is introduce a motion to say they won't be using the specific SOGI 123 learning resources in their district.

The sexual orientation and gender identity framework, however, would remain in the school district's anti-bullying policies and curriculum.

Glen Hansman, the president of the B.C. Teachers Federation, says even if a district were to successfully vote against using the SOGI 123 learning resources, they would have to decide what materials to use instead.

"No one is forcing an individual teacher or a school to use any of the lesson plans that are there as samples on the SOGI 123 website, or any of the recommended books, but they'll have to be doing some sort of work in this regard," Hansman said. 

Ministry responds

The Ministry of Education confirmed in a statement that "the provincial curriculum is mandatory," but it is up to each board to choose the specific learning resources  — which can include SOGI 123 — to meet that directive.

It also said the SOGI 123 materials are used by most B.C. school districts.

With files from Angela Sterritt