Edmonton Catholic School Board's Transgender Policy Hinges On Just One Word

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Edmonton Catholic School Board/Facebook
Edmonton Catholic School Board/Facebook

The Edmonton Catholic School Board has passed a second reading of its transgender policy, but critics say the choice of a single word might compromise the policy's effectiveness.

The board held a tense meeting Tuesday to vote on six amendments to its policy passed in October, Metro News reported.

The policy's first reading included the sentence, "All members of the school community have the right to an environment free of discrimination, prejudice and harassment."

But during the policy's second reading, board members voted to change the phrase to read "unjust discrimination."

"When we have an argument today to decide what is 'just discrimination' and what’s 'unjust discrimination' – who decides this?" transgender advocate and parent in the Catholic school district Marni Panas told Global News. "Somebody could say it’s ‘just’ to discriminate against a transgender girl for using a girls’ washroom."

Trustee Cindy Olsen made the case for the term's inclusion by arguing there is such a thing as "just" discrimination.

"If we had a teacher who was teaching religion and wasn't Catholic in a Catholic school, is that discrimination? Or is that unjust discrimination? Because how can a non-Catholic teacher teach religion?" Olsen said in the meeting, according to CBC News.

Patricia Grell and Marilyn Bergstra were the only trustees to vote against the amendment, both arguing it was too broad and open to interpretation.

"Somebody could say it’s 'just' to discriminate against a transgender girl for using a girls' washroom."

The board has struggled to create a policy after a seven-year-old transgender girl asked to use the girls bathroom at school earlier this year.

The girl's question sparked heated debates, moving some trustees to tears and shouts. One refused to back down from making a claim that transgender students have "a mental disorder."

Dr. Kristopher Wells, a professor with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the University of Alberta, says the policy is now worse than it was before, and is calling for the province's education minister to step in.

“They’ve had over a month to get this right and they’ve talked to the experts,” said Dr. Wells in an interview with the Edmonton Sun. “It’s very disappointing to see that this second draft of the policy is the best that they can do.”

Education Minister Dave Eggen has expressed frustration in the board's inability to draft a policy and has warned board members of consequences if they are unable to work together to meet a March deadline.

Eggen will review the policy and suggest guidelines before it heads to a third reading.

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