Rebecca Millette

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Debate over BC schools ‘homophobia’ policy heats up

Rebecca Millette
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BURNABY, British Columbia, May 17, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Debate is heating up over the adoption of a controversial “homophobia/heterosexism” policy in the Burnaby School District of British Columbia. 

Concerned parents say Draft Policy 5.45 would promote homosexuality to their children and discriminate against those who oppose a homosexual lifestyle. Trustees, on the other hand, maintain the policy merely ensures a safe and caring environment.

Parents have also expressed frustration that trustees have not met their demands for transparency on the policy specifics.

The draft policy, approved by the board of trustees February 22, 2011, defines “heterosexism” as a “mistaken assumption” that “all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior and the norm by which all other sexual orientation and gender identities are measured.”  It says it “perpetuates negative stereotypes and is dangerous to individuals and communities.” (For previous LSN coverage click here)

The Burnaby Parents’ Voice, a parent-initiated group to connect and inform concerned students and parents, issued a press release today citing the school board’s failure to respond to information requests about the development and implementation of Draft Policy 5.45.  The group said that numerous formal requests have been made to the Trustees under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).

Trustees have responded that, due to the broad “scope” of the request, a $1,425 fee would be required.  Parents requested a fee exemption provided under FOIPPA on May 8, but have not heard from the trustees.

LifeSiteNews contacted the school board trustee chairman numerous times last week for further information, but still has not received a response to inquiries.

The “homophobia/heterosexism” policy has been under development by trustees for over two years.  Parents learned of the policy in February and have since issued an outcry of opposition at school board meetings and through petitions.

“It’s just a draft policy at this time,” assured Trustee Chair Larry Hayes during a press conference last Wednesday. “We’ve given ample time for people to comment and there still is time.”

Students and parents, however, are concerned at what they call the “secrecy surrounding the disclosure of the information.”  With the June 3 submission deadline for input approaching, they are worried their requests will not be met.

Last Tuesday nearly 300 students and parents gathered to rally outside the meeting room where school board trustees heard from supporting and opposing parties.  While only 60 attendants were permitted in the meeting room, around 250 opposing the policy stood outside, compared to about 30 attendees who supported it.

Daud Ismail, past-president of the B.C. Muslim Association and current director of the Masjid Al-Salaam mosque in Burnaby, asked trustees in the meeting why so little input was gathered from the primary educators of the children – their parents – during the development of the policy. 

“How can I make a comment or make constructive suggestions without access to necessary information that the Board has failed to provide,” questioned Ismail. “We need to know what kind of teaching material will be used, how it will be presented and how explicit will that be.”

Trustee Chair Larry Hayes has repeatedly responded by emphasizing the policy will make few changes in the classroom, although the policy specifically says it would “embed and integrate” homosexual issues into the curriculum. 

“We’re not trying to change the curriculum and indoctrinate children,” Hayes told the Burnaby Now last Wednesday. “There will be little, if any change in our schools ... All we’re trying to do is create a safe and caring environment for [students] with different lifestyles.”

However, parents object that the school board’s current code of conduct already protects students from bullying and harassment.  The new policy, they say, while attempting to protect youth from “homophobia,” discriminates against other students by affording special rights to students who are, or are assumed to be homosexual.

Trustee Gary Wong, a member of the policy committee, told reporters Wednesday that the feedback trustees have received has been helpful.  He has agreed to meet with members of Parents’ Voice. “We’re still in the process of receiving input,” said Wong. “Until we get all that feedback, it would be premature to say what we will do [to the draft policy]. We’ll adjust to the needs and concerns of parents.”

However, Hayes has maintained he will do what he thinks right.  “We’re basically following the lead of 13 other school districts.  We want to be proactive and make sure we address things like gay slurs and bullying against someone who may be of a different sexual orientation,” the trustee chair said.

“Whether there are five people protesting or 1,000 people protesting, I just think it is the correct thing to do for our district,” concluded Hayes. “At the end, I think I am going to be comfortable in being able to sleep at night, thinking we have done the right thing.”

To learn more or submit input on Draft Policy 5.45 “Homophobia/Heterosexism” Policy, click here.

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