Education minister praises Catholic school board trustees on GSA issue at general meeting

Alberta school board trustees discussed the future of GSAs, LGBTQ inclusion at annual general meeting.

Bill 24 will come into effect on April 1

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen (left) talks with a reverend over lunch at the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association's annual general meeting on Saturday. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen praised Alberta's Catholic school board trustees for their work on gay-straight alliances, even though they have vocally fought the bill for years.  

"I thank you for all of the work that you've done," Eggen said to thunderous applause at the Alberta Catholic School Trustees' Association's (ACSTA) annual general meeting on Saturday.

"I know it was a long and winding road over the last couple of years," he said. "I had faith in each of our school boards to take [Bill 24] seriously and to make sure always that kids come first."

Bill 24 will support gay-straight alliances in Alberta's schools. It passed its third reading in the legislature last Wednesday and will come into effect on April 1. 

Adriana LaGrange, ACSTA president, said on Saturday that while the organization still has concerns about Bill 24, it will not fight the bill.

"When [the government] looks at writing the regulations, perhaps they'll look at those as well," she said of the Catholic school trustees' concerns. 

Two days before Bill 24 passed, the organization said in a press release that the bill's wording would place too much power on individual principals in schools to approve or disapprove of clubs and associations created by students, including GSAs.

The bill does not clarify "what the threshold will be" for releasing any information to parents about their children's well-being, the organization said. 

Education Minister David Eggen thanked Catholic school board trustees for their work on the gay-straight alliance issue. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Eggen acknowledged the critical role of parents played in their children's education during his opening speech.

"What this legislation does is ensure that students are the ones to decide when they have this very deeply personal conversation with their parents," Eggen said. 

Policy for all school boards

The Alberta School Boards Association, which represents all of the province's school boards, said in its most recent policy statement that it supports a safe, inclusive environment, but does not single out LGBTQ rights. 

Edmonton Public School Board trustee Michael Janz is hoping to change that. He said he will present a motion to the association on Monday to enshrine the rights of LGBTQ students in all school boards, regardless of the stance of the governing political party.

"We have policies on defibrillators, on oil well sites, relatively mundane topics but with something as important as GSAs … they're virtually mute," Janz said on Saturday.

In 2015,  Eggen ordered all school boards in Alberta to draft inclusive LGBTQ policies by 2016.

However, a CBC investigation proved that one in five Alberta school boards still lacked LGBTQ policies as of June 2017.