11/22/2012 13:15 EST | Updated 01/22/2013 05:12 EST

Trustee apologizes for comments about gay students

An Alberta school trustee has apologized for suggesting during a debate at the Alberta School Boards Association that gay students should be less open about their sexual identity.

"I want to apologize for my remarks at the ASBA fall general meeting," Pembina Hills Regional School Division trustee Dale Schaffrick said in a written statement on Thursday.

"They were inappropriate and offensive and I apologize for that. I was speaking as an individual trustee and not on behalf of my board."

Schaffrick made the remarks during a debate Monday at the fall meeting of the ASBA, in which trustees discussed and rejected a proposal from Edmonton Public Schools that would protect gay students from bullying and discrimination.

Schaffrick repeated his remarks when asked about them on Wednesday.

"If children with a gay tendency appear a certain way, we know that we have to be vigilant to make sure they are not discriminated against," Schaffrick told CBC News.

When asked if those students should try to be less identifiable, he said, "I think for their own benefit... it would be helpful."

Schaffrick said that he is not homophobic and wants all students to be protected.

Decision hurts gay students, advocate says

Edmonton human rights advocate Murray Billett is furious with the ASBA's rejection of the anti-bullying policy, enacted by Edmonton Public Schools last year.

"These are the decisions that force a kid to go to the barn and hang himself," Billett said. "Those are the decisions that tell that kid to shut up, be quiet, don't be yourself.

"What does that do to a child in a school? It's their responsibility to look after our kids."

Billett wants the province to order school boards to protect gay students.

"This is about doing the right thing," Billett said. "This is about courage."

Billett said he can't believe almost two-thirds of the province's trustees voted against a motion that would protect gay students and staff in Alberta schools.

"It shouldn't have been an option," he said. "It should have been an automatic. This is important. It's time."

No policy needed, education minister says

Danielle Parker, a first-year student at MacEwan University in Edmonton, fought for Edmonton Public Schools to pass its anti-bullying policy when she was in her final year of high school.

Parker, who is gay, said that Schaffrick's comments hurt.

"That's the least helpful piece of advice that you could give a student," she said on Thursday.

"Students deserve to be protected in their environment. They deserve to be able to look the way they want; they deserve to be able to act the way they want."

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson said he believes Schaffrick's comments from Monday are wrong.

"I'm offended by the insinuation that my kids would ever hide who they are under any circumstances and that we'd have the impression out there with any parents or any Albertans that any one of our trustees is not devoted to the protection of all of Alberta's children, and that's what I expect as the minister," he said.

However, Johnson said that Alberta doesn't need a specific anti-bullying policy because he believes that provincial legislation offers adequate protection for gay students.