Tuesday, February 20, 2007

BC schools and homophobic parents

... students need to learn about respect and inclusiveness to get along in Canadian society. ...

Angry parents send letters to Bond
Vancouver Sun February 19, 2007

Thousands of British Columbians have signed petitions and sent letters to the Education Ministry insisting that parents be allowed to pull their children from public school lessons to avoid gay-friendly messages that conflict with religious or family values.

But Education Minister Shirley Bond said she doesn't intend to change a policy that says parents may only remove their students from specific health lessons in three courses: Health and Career Education for K-7, Health and Career Education 8-9 and Planning 10.

Bond said the protest is premature since government has not yet moved on a promise to revise the K-12 curriculum to ensure individuals and groups "across the full range of gender identity and sexual orientation" are represented in a positive, non-denigrating way that emphasizes their contributions to society.

That promise was part of a contract the government signed last spring with gay activists Murray and Peter Corren to end a protracted human-rights case. As part of that deal, the government said it would enforce a policy that limits the ability of families to opt out of classes they find objectionable.

In an interview Sunday, Bond said the agreement is intended to make public schools inclusive and respectful, and parents should wait to see what curriculum changes are proposed before worrying about whether they can remove their children from classes.

But Sean Murphy of the Catholic Civil Rights League said the minister is ignoring the central point, which is the requirement for public schools to accommodate freedom of conscience and religion.

"That's the point that we've been making since September and that's the point she's been steadfastly ignoring," he said in an interview. The ministry has placed school boards in an awkward position by requiring them to adhere to a policy that violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he said.

By making a freedom-of-information request, Murphy found out that the ministry has received 1,000 pages of petitions and 5,000 pages of correspondence related to the Corren agreement. The ministry confirmed those numbers Friday.

Bond said she doesn't know how that compares to public outpourings about other issues, adding she also received thousands of letters and petitions from across the province about a requirement -- recently revoked -- that students complete a portfolio of their non-academic work in order to graduate from Grade 12.

"There is certainly a group of people who have expressed concern [about the Corren agreement], but it is balanced by those who support the initiative," the minister said.

Murphy has also written to all school boards and to key members of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, warning them that following the ministry's rules could result in lawsuits. Of the 60 B.C. school boards, six replied that they will not compel students to attend classes over the objections of their parents, he said.

The Abbotsford school board is expected to discuss the issue at a meeting tonight.

Contacted Sunday, the Correns said they didn't want to feed the debate any further by making public comments and referred questions to Glen Hansman, an anti-homophobia consultant with the Vancouver school board.

Hansman said he supports the ministry's policy because all students need to learn about respect and inclusiveness to get along in Canadian society. Tension between the secular public school system and families is not unusual, although the concerns heard most frequently are about evolution and Halloween, he added.

Leonard Remple of the Christian Coalition of Canada said it's not only religious parents who are concerned about possible future changes to the curriculum. He said he worries that classroom discussions about homosexuality might encourage young people to experiment with same-sex relationships and that could result in them getting HIV-AIDs.