N.B. child and youth advocate calls for reversal of 'shoddy' changes to LGBTQ policy for schools
Kelly Lamrock says policy changes are not clear, open the door for discrimination
New Brunswick's child and youth advocate is calling for the reversal of all major changes made to a policy that protects LGBTQ students.
Kelly Lamrock issued a report Monday opposing the changes made to Policy 713 by Minister of Education Bill Hogan, which outline basic requirements for a safe school environment for these students.
"The drafting here, regardless of the issue, is so shoddy and inadvertently discriminatory that it really doesn't seem to meet anybody's purposes," he said at a media scrum.
The changes included no longer making it mandatory for teachers and staff to respect the chosen names and pronouns of children under 16 without parental consent and a directive to send children who don't want to involve parents to a school mental health professional.
When the review began in April, Lamrock said the process was "incoherent" and not based on facts, and was causing fear among students and adults. In Monday's report he said his opinion has not changed, and the results are only causing more confusion.
"That vagueness is going to be chaotic for schools and, most importantly, it's going to introduce a lot of uncertainty for children at a time they need the grownups to act with certainty," he said.
He outlined four areas that especially concern him.
Lamrock wants the line restored that requires the consent of a student before parents are contacted.
Minister of Education Bill Hogan has repeatedly said the government has no plans to out children to their parents without their consent.
However, he removed the line that said the school "must have the informed consent from the student to discuss their preferred name with the parent."
Lamrock said the obligation to respect students' chosen names and pronouns should be restored.
He said the original policy was clear: school staff should respect a child's chosen name and pronoun regardless of age and parental consultation. The government should restore this clarity, he said.
The new and old policies only explicitly require parental consent for official name changes on report cards and school systems.
According to Hogan, the policy now makes it mandatory for teachers to deny a child under 16's request to be referred to by a different name and pronoun informally in the classroom, unless a parent consents. He said this protects "parental rights" and allows the teacher to decline to use a child's chosen name or pronoun if that's against the wishes of the parent.
However, the written policy is not as explicit about informal name changes.
"The policy is unclear as to whether informal kindnesses and decency are allowed or not, and this places teachers and students in a difficult spot," Lamrock wrote.
He said his office is assembling a team of lawyers to provide a legal guidance memo for school staff by the start of August.
"Where the policy is silent, here's what the law says you must do for students," he said.
He also said the way the policy is worded opens the door for discrimination, as the school now has to somehow find out if a name change is related to gender identity or just a nickname.
"If Terrance wants to be called by a nickname, it would be absurd to ask teachers to agree to use Terry but not Terri because of perceptions about the motivation," he said.
Lamrock said calling kids by their chosen name is "simple courtesy," and there is no proven harm in it. He said in fact, research shows affirmation is the best defence against serious mental health issues for trans and non-binary kids.
"It's perfectly legitimate to give teachers guidance as to when parents should be notified. That is perfectly fair," he said. "But you can't say we need rules ... for students wrestling with gender identity, but not for any other personal issue.
"What about straight students who might be dating or sexually active? What about if a student, whose parents are devout Muslim, decides she doesn't want to wear the hijab at school even though her parents wish she would?"
Mental health supports
The policy now says that if a student under 16 wants an official name or pronoun change, and doesn't want to involve their parents to obtain their consent, they should be directed to a school psychologist or social worker and come up with a plan to include the parents.
Lamrock said while it's good to make it explicit that children exploring their gender identity have some kind of mental health or adult supports in the system, the problem with this section is the term "directed."
Being trans is not a mental disorder, according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and most mental health harm comes from discrimination and transphobia.
Lamrock said any support available to trans kids shouldn't create "a conveyor belt of pressure" to either prove that their parents will harm them enough for social services to be involved or be pushed into other interventions.
He said it's possible to balance the child's interests with supporting discussions between parents and children, but the new policy "throws that balance off."
The new policy says all students will be able to participate in curricular and extracurricular activities that are safe and welcoming, removing the phrase "consistent with their gender identity."
Lamrock said he has seen no reason why this has been removed and should be restored as an added protection against discrimination.
He noted that he is happy that no changes were made to the section affirming students' right to choose the washroom they feel is consistent with their identity.
Minister 'disappointed,' stands by changes
In an emailed statement to CBC late Monday, Hogan said he is "disappointed" Lamrock's comments suggest the government did not undertake the review of Policy 713 "with care."
"We listened to and consulted with hundreds of New Brunswickers and made amendments based on those exact conversations," Hogan said, adding he stands by the changes.
Lamrock was also consulted on the three revisions, and his feedback "was taken into consideration," noted Hogan.
"We hold teachers in a position of public trust. Parents are our chief partners when it comes to supporting students and it is not appropriate to be using a different name than the parents," he said.
"If a teacher does not have the permission of a student's parents to use the chosen pronoun or name in a classroom, they won't be able to use that name or pronoun.
"Asking teachers to hide this from parents puts them in an extremely challenging position which I don't feel is fair to parents."
The minister reiterated that teachers will not be outing students and they can still confide in educators in confidence.