The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association is calling for a more respectful and collaborative discourse on issues relating to gender minority students and staff members in Alberta schools.
Mark Ramsankar says over-the-top rhetoric on gender issues harms students, teachers and schools.
“In recent days, the extreme rhetoric circulating around gender minority issues has been very unhelpful,” said President Ramsankar. “I have heard people describing as ‘totalitarian’ and ‘bullying’ the government’s efforts to identify ways in which schools can be made more welcoming for transgender students. I have also heard unwarranted attacks upon the legitimacy of Catholic education and calls for the abolition of a school system that we fully support and that has served communities since before the province was created-none of this contributes to a civil dialogue.”
Ramsankar notes that the Association welcomed the Alberta government’s recent efforts to promote practices that can help schools respond to the needs of transgendered students. “For me and my members, whether they teach in Catholic, public or francophone schools, this is all about helping us to meet our professional and legal obligations to ensure that our classrooms are safe and caring places of learning for every student.”
The ATA president dismissed out of hand misrepresentations of the guidelines issued last week by the Education minister: “Some of the claims being made would be laughable if they were not so hurtful. We have people who are imagining the most bizarre scenarios-they seem to believe that the use of the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ will be somehow banned or that the consequence of accommodating a few transgendered students will be that teen boys will be traipsing at will through the girls’ change room (or vice versa) when the intention is clearly to support those students who face the wrenching challenges of navigating through the world when their gender identity does not match their sex.”
“For teachers, this is about safety and security, and teachers will sensibly manage situations as they emerge with that clearly in mind,” said Ramsankar. “The job of government, school boards and school administrators, then, is to unequivocally support teachers in their efforts to support children.”
Teachers welcome thoughtful conversations as school communities determine how they can better meet the needs of students and their families, says Ramsankar. “I am not naive; there will be times when well-intentioned people will disagree, but when that happens we must agree to remain respectful and considerate of each other and recall that the first priority of the school is to nurture all its students and staff.”
This all comes on the heels of Education Minister David Eggen releasing guidelines for Alberta school boards involving mandatory policies supporting gender diversity in schools.
The guidelines support a number of steps including the inclusion of gay-straight alliances and participation on gender-segregated sports teams amongst others.
The move prompted Calgary Bishop Fred Henry to write an open letter calling the guidelines ‘totalitarian’ and against church teachings.