Edmonton Catholic school board defends actions with transgender student

The Edmonton Catholic school board is on the defensive after last week's explosive board meeting erupted into arguments over a new inclusivity policy, including whether transgender students can use washrooms of their choice in the city's Catholic schools.

Chair Debbie Engel apologizes and issues assurances board is working on a transgender policy

Edmonton catholic school board chair, Debbie Engel, reinforced what Edmonton Catholic Schools have and will continue to do to support transgender students on Monday. (CBC)

The Edmonton Catholic school board is on the defensive after last week's explosive board meeting erupted into arguments over a new inclusivity policy, including whether transgender students can use washrooms of their choice in the city's Catholic schools.

On Monday, board chair Debbie Engel outlined how Catholic schools have worked with the family of a transgender student at the centre of the controversy, which began last spring shortly after the child made a formal transition from boy to girl.

Engel read from a prepared statement, saying "clarification needs to be given to the public on how the school is meeting the needs of the transgender girl."

She listed what the board and school have done, including how the staff has cooperated by referring to the elementary student by her chosen name and undergone sensitivity training.

A board policy for dealing with transgender students hasn't yet been approved. But Engel said moving ahead with one is "still extremely important," a comment that appeared to be aimed at reassuring Alberta's education minister that the board is working on a policy.

Engel said she told Education Minister David Eggen there is the "will on the board to come to a consensus with a stand-alone transgender policy" at a board meeting in October.

After the Sept. 16 board meeting on the transgender issue triggered heated arguments, Eggen threatened to intervene and dissove the board if necessary. But he said he would wait until seeing a draft inclusivity policy for transgender students.

Engel issued an apology Monday for the behaviour of the trustees at last week's meeting.

"I'm very sorry about the behaviour of all trustees, including myself, because tempers were hot," Engel said.

But Engel read a letter written by the teacher who taught the transgender child last school year. 

 The letter emphasized how the girl was given the option to use one of the two all-gender bathrooms at the school, and by the end of the school year the child used the girls' bathroom.

"The principal did everything in her power to ensure we as a staff were educated on this change by bringing in counsellors, psychologists, our priest and many more beneficial people," the letter stated.

"Nothing but love and acceptance was shown here at our school."

The name of the letter's author is not included nor is the date.

Letter comes after tense, emotional meeting

Just prior to last week's board meeting, trustee Larry Kowalczyk said transgender students should be considered as having a mental illness. His comments provoked outrage online and from some of his fellow trustees. 

Kowalczyk said he would not support a policy that would allow students to use the washroom designated differently from the gender they were born with.

Instead, he would support a policy crafted by the Edmonton Archdiocese, which would encourage Catholic schools to set up gender-neutral washrooms available to all students.

At the Sept. 16 meeting, trustees voted 5-2 to defer a decision on what they're calling an "ìnclusive community policy" for the city's Catholic schools.


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