New Education Minister wants Alberta students to feel safe

Alberta’s new Education Minister Gordon Dirks is getting a read on how many schools have Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in the province as the Liberal Opposition prepares a new bill that will require school boards to support GSAs.

On Tuesday, the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) asked principals in the district to fill out a survey on the number of GSAs, diversity groups and anti-bullying clubs at their school and that information is to be shared with Dirks. Alberta Education asked for the same information from every school board in the province, said Dirks’ press secretary Kathleen Range.

“The Minister is new on the job and part of his mandate to promote safe and inclusive schools,” explained Range.

“It was an informal request for this information just out of pure curiosity about how many of these clubs and organizations exist across the school system. We know they exist, we just wanted to get a sense of what they were, who was organizing them and that sort of thing.”

EPSB spokesperson Jane Sterling said there are 25 GSAs, 38 diversity groups and 72 anti-bullying clubs in the city’s schools.

“Children should come to school and feel safe so these types of organizations and groups help sort out those differences so it’s really important to have these in a school,” she said.

“Our board has been very strong in making sure LGBTQ kids are welcomed embraced in schools.”

The government information gathering comes nearly seven months after PC and Wildrose Opposition MLAs voted against a motion in the legislature to make it mandatory for Alberta schools to allow for the creation of GSAs.

Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman said she will introduce a private member’s bill during the fall legislative session, the Safe and Inclusive School Act, to requiring all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to establish GSAs and repeal section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which requires a parent or guardian be notified if sexual orientation will be discussed in the classroom.

“The next victory for the LGBTQ community may take some more hard work and compromise but it will surely come,” said Blakeman.

“We are not giving up until all students are free to be who they are, free to gather together in any way they see fit, and our schools are accepting and welcoming of differences.”

Dirks has faced criticism in recent weeks over his position as a former executive pastor at Calgary’s Centre Street Church, which sees homosexuality as a sin, but has said he will not tolerate discrimination in Alberta’s education system.

matthew.dykstra@sunmedia.ca

@SunMattDykstra

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