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ATA president applauds new GSA bill

November 7, 2017 ATA News Staff

ATA president Greg Jeffery is applauding the introduction of a new bill aimed at protecting the privacy of students who join gay–straight alliances (GSAs).

Education Minister David Eggen introduced An Act to Protect Gay–Straight Alliances on Nov. 2. Among other measures, the bill would amend the School Act by explicitly protecting the privacy of students who attend GSAs. If the bill is passed, informing parents about student participation in gay–straight alliances will be left up to the students themselves.

“Our top priority is for all schools across Alberta to be safe and welcoming for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,” said Eggen in his government’s news release. “These amendments are intended to provide clarity and consistency to support students, families and school authorities.”

Jeffery called for all-party support for the bill, which he feels will help students feel safe.

“Some students who are even nervous that their participation in GSA activities might be disclosed simply will not go — and the support they need disappears,” Jeffery said. “Making it clear that the support is confidential removes some big barriers to access.”

In 2015, when Bill 10 — An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children — was introduced, the Association called for regulations to protect student privacy, but since then a number of groups have characterized such privacy protections as “secretive” and suggested that schools are “excluding” parents. The issue has become a hot topic in provincial politics.

Jeffery says the whole issue has unfortunately become politicized and unnecessarily divisive.

The ATA’s Code of Conduct and provincial privacy law would likely preclude disclosure of GSA participation without student consent, but the recent public attention and political discussion has challenged those obligations.

“Students and teachers will benefit from legal clarity,” said Jeffery. “If this bill is passed, teachers will no longer have to worry about managing competing pressures on such a sensitive topic.”

“Teachers will be able to point to the law and tell students and parents clearly – student privacy, safety and security comes first.”

Other School Act amendments introduced in the bill would require all publicly funded schools — including accredited private schools — to create inclusive policies related to sexual and gender minority students and would add powers for the minister to enforce the law. They would also ensure principals support the timely creation of GSAs when students request them. ❚

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