PEI

P.E.I. schools to see new gender diversity guidelines

The P.E.I. Public Schools Branch is developing a new, up-to-date set of gender diversity guidelines for Island schools, following in the path of other provinces across the country that have already put similar guidelines in place. 

Province crafting guidelines with input from PEERS Alliance and the P.E.I. Transgender Network

Currently, the Public Schools Branch uses gender diversity guidelines from Alberta that teachers, counsellors and school administrators can access to support students. (John Robertson/CBC)

The P.E.I. Public Schools Branch is developing gender diversity guidelines for Island schools, following many other provinces across the country that already have such guidelines in place. 

Acting Public Schools Branch director Norbert Carpenter said the aim is to create more inclusive and safe learning environments for all students on P.E.I., while demonstrating respect for diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

"The goal is to create an equitable environment, learning and working environment, for our students and staff that, you know, reflects inclusively," Carpenter said.  

The PSB currently distributes guidelines from the education system in Alberta that teachers, counsellors and school administrators on P.E.I. can access to support students. They include:

  • Advising teachers to address students by whatever name and pronoun they choose based on how the student self-identifies
  • Eliminating separate activities for students based on gender
  • Making it clear that individuals should be allowed to decide what washroom they use. 

Carpenter said those guidelines have been a helpful tool, but it's time P.E.I. had it's own guidelines that can be distributed and followed by all Island schools.

"I just think it's essential. It's 2021," Carpenter said.

We want to do it right and we want to make sure that every single one of our students [can] feel welcome, feel safe in our schools.- Norbert Carpenter

"It really is important for us to model and support all students and this is a natural step for us. And we want to do it right and we want to make sure that every single one of our students [can] feel welcome, feel safe in our schools."

"The content may not change drastically, but there needs to be updates. References need to be updated, some terminology and some definitions, so that's where the work of our stakeholders will come in," Carpenter said. 

Acting director of the Public Schools Branch Norbert Carpenter says staff will work with PEERS Alliance and the P.E.I. Transgender Network to develop the guidelines before they are presented to students, staff and the public for consultation. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

He said staff with the PSB started drafting the guidelines last fall with help and guidance from PEERS Alliance and the P.E.I. Transgender Network. 

Two groups offering feedback

Rory Starkman, youth co-ordinator with PEERS Alliance, has been among those reviewing and offering feedback.  

Starkman said they often hear from students who have experienced instances of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia while at school and their hope is that these guidelines will get students talking about how to create respectful spaces where all students feel supported.

I'm really excited that this could actually be a really progressive document.— Rory Starkman

"For the Public Schools Branch to put out these guidelines, it is taking that stand and saying: 'We won't stand for homophobia or transphobia in the schools on the Island.' And hopefully that will help educators kind of see how desperately these things need to be understood," Starkman said. 

While other provinces have had similar gender diversity guidelines in place for a number of years, Starkman said P.E.I. now has an opportunity to build upon the work that has already been done. 

"I think it's actually really great, because as we know, the landscape of what we're understanding about gender diversity and sexual diversity is evolving," they said. 

"It's kind of really cool because in P.E.I., we're small, but because they are putting the work in to actually consult with us in the community, I'm really excited that this could actually be a really progressive document."

'We think that a lot of the more meaningful education will happen within the conversations that happen around the guidelines,' says Rory Starkman, who is offering feedback on the document. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Starkman said they hope to stay involved as work on the guidelines continues and would like to assist the PSB as it rolls out the final draft in Island schools, by offering presentations and other resources to students and staff.

"We think that a lot of the more meaningful education will happen within the conversations that happen around the guidelines," Starkman said.  

Carpenter said the PSB will work with PEERS Alliance and the P.E.I. Transgender Network as staff continue to work on the guidelines.

The schools branch will then seek input from students, school staff and the public before the guidelines are finalized. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brittany Spencer is a multi-platform journalist with CBC P.E.I. Email: brittany.spencer@cbc.ca

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