Parental consent not required for gay-straight alliances, says minister

There may be a battle brewing between Catholic schools in Alberta and the education minister over whether parents must be told when their child wants to join a gay-straight alliance.

Students' rights at heart of issue

Education Minister Gordon Dirks says he expects all school boards to follow the law allowing the establishment of GSAs. (CBC)

There may be a battle brewing between faith-based schools in Alberta and the education minister over whether parents must be told when their child wants to join a gay-straight alliance.

In the legislature on Thursday Minister Gordon Dirks squashed the suggestion that schools are required to tell parents if their child wants to become part of a GSA. 

“These are voluntary student organizations,” he said, “under Bill 10 there is no requirement for parental notification or consent for a student to participate in a GSA.” 

The question about parental consent was lobbed his way by Liberal Laurie Blakeman after the Council of Catholic School Superintendents released what they call a ‘Life Framework.’ It states “parental consent may be required in some circumstances; namely, parents shall be informed when their child wishes to join a student group in which one of the stated purposes focuses on issues related to sexuality or sexual orientation.”

The Life Framework document refers to Section 11.1 (1) of the Alberta Human Rights Act which was repealed by Bill 10. Similar language on the requirement for parental consent still exists in the School and Education Acts, although it applies to school curriculum, not student groups.

Blakeman has heard concerns that schools may use the threat of parental notification to discourage GSAs. This in effect could out a teen to their parent, which could lead to them getting kicked out of the house.

“We already have very high queer student population of homeless people, we don’t want to be adding to that,” Blakeman said.

Dirks said that school staff are not allowed to put pressure on students. He says they are expected to act professionally and keep the best interests of their students in mind.

“They have a duty of care for those children and I would anticipate that they would follow that duty of care expectation,” he said.

Although Dirks says all schools are expected to comply with the bill, there are signs that some schools may be pushing back.

The superintendent of the Islamic Academy in Edmonton declined comment when asked if the school supports Bill 10.

Late Thursday afternoon, the president of the Alberta Teachers' Association, Mark Ramsankar, called on Dirks to issue ministerial orders to prohibit schools from disclosing student GSA participation to parents, to allow students to determine the name of their GSA and to protect principals and teachers who allow or help set-up a GSA from discrimination at work. 

“These are contentious issues and our concerns are not theoretical – there have been instances, some very recently, where teachers have been fired for no reason other than their sexual identity," Ramasankar said in a news release.

"It is clear that a failure by government to provide clear direction to school boards will have a profoundly chilling effect on GSAs in schools and undermine the very good work that the legislature has done.”

A spokeswoman for Alberta Education told CBC News Thursday that the department was getting a legal opinion on changes to Bill 10, which could suggest the province is expecting legal challenges.

Earlier this week, Premier Jim Prentice confirmed the Alberta government sought independent advice on the legality of the amendments passed Tuesday.