Catholic trustees fire back at minister over LGBTQ guidelines

Education minster David Eggen says he is meeting within the next two days with a facilitator hired last fall to help the board members work together. He says they will develop next steps after that.

'All of our schools are very inclusive . . . and caring environments,' says ACSTA president

Education Minister David Eggen has instructed school boards to have gender identity policies in place by the end of March. (CBC)

The association that represents Catholic school trustees in Alberta is firing back against new provincial guidelines to be used in policies supporting LGBTQ students.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association said it "reaffirms the rights of parents and/or guardians as primary educators to make informed choices for their child/children."

"ACSTA reaffirms the responsibility and the role of the Alberta Catholic Bishops to provide moral and  theological leadership to the Catholic community including Catholic education communities.

In the statement, ACSTA says Catholic schools already have strong anti-bullying policies and a framework which "have long ensured that all students, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, etc., are treated with equal respect and dignity."

ACSTA president Adriana LaGrange, a trustee on the board of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools, said the statement addresses the perception there is something wrong with how LGBTQ students are treated in Catholic schools. 

"That is not the case," she said. "All of our schools are very inclusive, welcoming space and caring environments."

Some guidelines go too far 

Education Minister David Eggen has given the province's 61 school boards until March 31 to come up with policies to to support and protect students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

Trustees are to rely on guidelines in the 21-page document, which states students have the right to self-identify their gender and be addressed by the name and pronoun of their choice.

The guidelines say students must be allowed to use the washroom they are most comfortable with and that all schools must have at least one single stall washroom, but students should not be forced to use it unless they want to.

​LaGrange said while some of the guidelines are laudable, she said Alberta Education has "overreached" with others. 

She said the ministry developed the guidelines without consulting with Catholic trustees and bishops. She says the ACSTA still wants to talk. 

"We are still open and willing and wanting to have those conversations," she said. 

On Friday, a majority of trustees on the Edmonton Catholic School board decided to send its parents a letter from Calgary Bishop Fred Henry where he denounced the guidelines as "totalitarian" and "anti-Catholic."

The decision was made while board chairwoman Marilyn Bergstra was at another meeting. Bergstra supported the guidelines when they were released last week. She said she would have advised against sending the letter to parents if she had been part of the meeting. 

Eggen said Tuesday that he was disturbed by the board's latest actions and said he plans to meet with a facilitator who was hired to help trustees work together.

As education minister, Eggen can dissolve a school board if he decides members are not acting in the best interest of students.

He told reporters he has been mulling that option in recent days.

With files from the Canadian Press