EDMONTON - Alberta brought back legislation Tuesday to take on schoolyard bullies and clarify that home-schooling parents won't face human rights investigations for passing religious values on to their children.
"We've outlined the expectations for both students and school boards to prevent bullying, (to) take action when it happens and protect children from the horrible consequences of bullying whether it happens in the schoolyard, on buses, or online," Education Minister Jeff Johnson said after he introduced the proposed new Education Act.
The bill has been introduced twice before, most recently in the spring, but both times has died on the order paper before it could pass.
It failed in the spring after it met fierce resistance from Christian home-schooling groups and the Opposition Wildrose party.
They objected to a section that stated all instruction must respect the Human Rights Act. They felt the clause would force home-schooling parents to teach values that ran contrary to their religious views.
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That section has now been reworded to say all courses and programs must reflect the diverse nature and values of Alberta, said Johnson.
"It contains very strong language about respecting diversity and creating welcoming, safe school environments," he said.
Johnson said the Human Rights Act still applies — as it applies to all Alberta legislation by default — but says they needed to clear up concerns that the bill would allow education bureaucrats to go after people for alleged human rights violations.
"(Albertans) respect the Human Rights Act, but they want it to be interpreted and enforced by the Human Rights Commission," he said.
The department estimates 5,000 students are taught at home, about 1.3 per cent of the total student population.
NDP critic Dave Eggen said the government missed an opportunity to "show leadership" by failing to emphasize human rights.
"What was missing before still needs to be strengthened now, and that's a sense of equality and justice for everyone who goes to school in a public setting," said Eggen.
Bruce McAllister of the Wildrose said the government got it right this time, but said it's disappointing it could not have been fixed in the spring.
"We're all on the side of what's best for Alberta students, but somebody was digging in their heels, apparently for all the wrong reasons," he said.
Under the bullying provisions, principals and trustees will have more authority under the act to address not only the bullying that happens on school grounds, but also bullying that happens on websites or off the grounds — such as hazing — that affects a student's ability to learn.
The principal and the board will have the authority to issues suspensions and expulsions.
There are also changes to age requirements.
Students who can drop out at age 16 will now have to stay in school until 17. Students will also be allowed to stay in school to finish their high school degree up to 21 without cost to themselves rather than the current limit of 19.
Both initiatives are to encourage students to stick with their schooling and get their diploma.
The bill will also allow Johnson to make regulations on what school boards can ask parents to pay in extra school fees.
Among other provisions, Johnson will also be able to direct school boards to work together on transportation issues to save money or reduce long bus rides for students.
The bill has a long way to go to become law.
If it's passed as expected in the fall sitting there will be time allotted for a regulatory review and for school boards to update their policies to bring them in line with the bill once it is proclaimed into law.
The target date for the new law is Sept. 1, 2015.
SEE: The 10 Bills The Government Plans To Pass This Sitting