Edmonton Public Schools breached privacy of transgender girl

The Edmonton public school board breached the privacy of a transgender student by displaying her male birth name to classmates during morning roll call, a ruling by the province’s privacy commissioner has found.

Girl was "outed" to fellow students during morning roll call

The Edmonton public school board breached the privacy of a transgender student by displaying her male birth name to classmates during morning roll call, the province's privacy commissioner has ruled.

The ruling, posted last week by the office of the commissioner, found the school failed to protect the girl's personal information on multiple occasions. 

"I understand the complainant's frustration and concern," adjudicator Keri H. Ridley said in the decision. "I agree there were not proper safeguards in place at the time of the breaches."

Prior to starting at the unnamed school, the girl and her parents told school officials she was transgender. But they didn't want other students to know.

Officials promised to keep that information private, including using a list with the girl's chosen name during roll call.

However, when the girl was in class, her male birth name, which was then her legal name, was displayed on a screen when teachers performed roll call using a computer program called PowerTeacher.

According to the ruling, this happened a number of times, usually when a supply teacher was teaching the class. The breach occurred on two other occasions when other students were asked to take attendance

School officials were apologetic when the student and her parents raised the issue. But mediation didn't give the student confidence the school would take action to ensure this wouldn't happen again so she laid a complaint in March 2014.

Technology has changed 

Since then, the board has found a way to change a student's name in the computer program with parental consent, said Marlene Hanson, the district's supervisor of diversity education and comprehensive school health.

"When a family requests that a preferred name be used on all official documents and student records, we now have the capacity to do that," she said. "And that was a technological solution." 

The adjudicator states the draft policy shows the school  is "well on its way to developing and implementing an appropriate policy."

Adds the ruling: "The public body has repeatedly acknowledged its failings and appears to be attempting to rectify its weaknesses in this area.

"I hope, as I am sure the complainant does, that this is done as soon as possible to prevent future breaches."

Transgender woman and LGBTQ advocate Marni Panas said the ruling is a document all school boards and public bodies need to look at. 

"It's so important that we actually see a ruling that really validates all that we have been saying all along," Panas said. "And so these school boards really need to pay attention, they need to take care of the identity of their students." 

Panas said exposing a person's gender history could put them at risk for bullying. She said this is why school policies to protect the gender identity of students are essential. 

Earlier this year, Alberta Education Minister David Eggen instructed all school boards across Alberta to submit draft policies to protect LGBT students and respect gender identity and diversity by the end of March. 

Eggen's request was met with resistance by some school boards but eventually they all complied. 

Kristopher Wells, the faculty director at the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said this case shows why school districts must ensure their policies are detailed and specific.

"This ruling is a victory for the minister's LGBT guidelines," Wells said. "It clearly supports students' right to confidentiality, right to have their school records changed and maintained in a secure and private fashion, so no student is ever outed again in any Alberta classroom."

Hanson said the board is learning how to handle situations involving transgender students. She thanked the student and her parents for bringing the matter to the attention of the privacy commissioner. 

"We know this was an uncomfortable and challenging situation for this family," she said. "We know that it was very frustrating and disappointing at the time. And certainly we regret that it happened and we acknowledged that to the family."