10/14/2015 02:40 EDT | Updated 10/14/2015 04:59 EDT

Edmonton Catholic Schools Will Bring In Outside Adviser On Transgender Policy

Bullit Marquez/AP
A LGBT (Lesbians Gays Bisexuals and Transgenders) couple is silhouetted by their rainbow-colored symbol while waiting to march around the University of the Philippines campus in an annual event to draw the attention to their issues as gay rights and anti-discrimination Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 at suburban Quezon city northeast of Manila, Philippines. More than a hundred LGBTs joined the march which culminated in a concert.(AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

EDMONTON — Alberta's education minister is taking steps to keep a tight rein on Edmonton Catholic school trustees openly feuding over a policy to protect gay and transgender students.

David Eggen announced Wednesday that the province has hired an outside adviser to work with the board to help it pass an inclusive policy.

"Generally they (the Edmonton trustees) have had governance issues for a long time,'' Eggen told reporters at the legislature.

"It has come to a head in regards to their capacity to build a coherent transgender policy and an equality policy generally.''

Eggen has broad powers over school boards and said he hasn't ruled out dissolving the board if it fails to meet expectations.

Catholic board chairwoman Marilyn Bergstra said in statement: "As a board, we want to move forward in a positive manner. ''We are all here for our students and recognize the need to work together on their behalf."

Asked why he doesn't simply implement a provincewide policy on transgender and same-sex equality issues, Eggen would only say he expects all school boards to implement policies in line with legislation.

"I've met with all of (the boards) except one so far in the last few weeks, and the message is clear.''

The adviser, Donald Cummings and his group National Growth Partners, has a six-month contract costing $60,000. The cost is to be split between the province and the school board.

"He (Cummings) will work with the board both collectively and individually to improve their governance skills and have mechanisms by which they can work together,'' said Eggen.

Cummings's first report to Eggen is due in three months.

It has been a fractious time for Edmonton Catholic trustees trying to draft a policy on transgender students. It began when a seven-year-old transgender girl wanted to use the girls bathroom at her school but was told to use a gender-neutral one.

Last month, a discussion on the policy led to trustees yelling and cutting each other off during a public meeting. There were accusations of bullying and bigotry, and one trustee was in tears.

Before the meeting, trustee Larry Kowalczyk said being transgender is a form of "mental disorder.'' He later apologized.

Trustees met again Tuesday night and passed first reading of a broad statement that promises sexual orientation and gender identity of students will be respected in a safe environment.

Only Kowalczyk voted against it.

He told the meeting that changing one's gender goes against Catholic doctrine.

"Humans are obliged to regard their bodies as good and to hold them in honour since God has created them,'' he told the meeting.

The proposed policy goes to public hearings and is to return to trustees for a second reading on Nov. 24.

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