A week after controversial comments were made by Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, two local school boards have attempted to clarify their policies concerning pronoun and name changes by transgender or gender-diverse students.
Lecce caused concern at a Monday, Aug. 28, 2023 press conference when he said the provincial government believes “parents have the right to know” when their child is using pronouns different from those assigned to them at birth and that school boards should “be transparent with” parents when this occurs.
These comments alarmed many in the community who say that a requirement to inform parents, if imposed, could put students at risk if they are from a home environment where 2SLGTBQIA+ people are rejected.
The conversation arose at a press conference last week where Lecce was asked if his government was going to bring in policies requiring that parents be informed if their children change gender identity at school, like those in New Brunswick, where teachers are barred from using a student’s preferred pronouns without parental permission, and in Saskatchewan, where parental consent is required when children under 16 want to use names or pronouns at school that are different from those assigned them at birth.
“School boards will have policies; I’m just affirming to you the province’s position on the matter, quite clearly, which is: parents have a right to know, and we will respect parental rights. We think boards must do the same,” Lecce concluded at that time.
Reached for comment, two local boards offered some insight into their own policies, or lack of policies, for their schools’ duty to report to parents if a student uses pronouns that do not conform with those assigned to them at birth.
Allison Grange, Communications Consultant for the Limestone District School Board (LDSB), clarified that Limestone does not have a specific policy, but has had a working guideline for several years called Supporting & Protecting LDSB Transgender-Spectrum and/or Gender Non-Conforming Students.
This document says, “Legal documentation is not required for a name or gender marker change in the computer system at school. Requesting further ‘proof’ of gender identity, such as medical records, is not permitted and may constitute discrimination or harassment on the ground of gender identity. Transgender-spectrum students have a right to change their name and/or pronouns as needed, to make such a change known to staff and other students, and to have this change respected.” (Italics in original)
Krishna Burra, LDSB’s Director of Education, stated, “For a wide range of issues, we always encourage open communication between students and their parents and help support the student in that process. While this may not be explicit in this specific document, it is how we operate, and we do have to use judgment when a student communicates any form of safety concern as it relates to communication with the parent/family.”
Jessica Salmon, Manager of Strategic Communications for Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB), responded to Kingstonist’s request for information, saying ALCDSB “ensures that all students are loved, inspired and successful and do so by prioritizing a strong partnership between home and school. Our Board does not have a specific policy with regard to student pronouns; however, students are supported through additional documents such as our Caring and Safe Schools policy as well as the Equity and Well-Being plan. As always, the safety and well-being of our students remain a priority.”
Unfortunately, the Caring and Safe Schools Policy links and subsequent files on the ALCDSB website are currently empty. Kingstonist requested the text of that policy from the ALCDSB, but no response was received by time of publiction.
Meanwhile, the Board’s Equity Plan outlines ALCDSB’s “key priorities in the work we will do to reach our intended goals” from 2020 to 2024.
Some of these priorities are “Review language in communication from Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario for June Pride Month”; “Develop an inclusive language guide and pastoral resources that inform and support staff and students in identifying and using language that is equity focused”; “Develop a list of resources that educators can use to support students identifying as LGBTQ2S+”; and ”Support ongoing learning for students and staff by developing guidelines for supporting students, staff and families that identify as gender nonconforming or on the transgender spectrum.“
Through a close reading of the Equity Plan document, one might see a reference to the ALCDSB Pastoral Approach Document. It appears this document was sent in a memo to the board’s Issues and Directions Committee in May 2022. However, it is unclear whether this document was directly shared with staff.
Meanwhile, concerned locals, such as members of Greater Napanee Pride, said Lecce’s comments “make the 2SLGBTQIA+ community nervous, and we must continue to monitor the situation and pressure the government to do the right thing. Anti-trans rhetoric has led to extreme policies across the country and the world.”