Opinion: Policing, not preserving, choice for children

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The Alberta government recently held a parent engagement session regarding the premier’s new mandate: “Preserving Choice for Children.” Participants were overwhelmingly against any of the proposed policies, but it was explicitly stated this was not “in scope” for feedback.

The session was nothing more than optics. The topics for discussion were superficial. The engagement questions focused on communication with parents, appropriate resources, supporting students and families, and meaningful participation in sport. There were no open-ended questions for true inquiry or discussion. It was clear the proposed policy changes are going to be implemented whether we like it or not.

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This is appalling.

This so-called engagement session was an insult. We demanded full transparency and clearly stated that our participation in this session does not indicate validation of these policies.

Our perspectives echo the grave concerns expressed by experts: these policy changes are dangerous and will cause harm to children. There were not enough consultations with experts, parents, and students before these policies were introduced at the premier’s whim. We firmly believe these policies contravene the policies of Safe and Caring Schools and the Charter of Human Rights, and will place vulnerable youth at risk.

Schools and parents already have effective communication for opting out of sexual education classes. The proposal to opt in is very problematic, with risky unintended consequences such as increased teen pregnancy, STIs and risk of sexual assault. Public schools already use evidence-based resources for sexual education classes, readily available for parents. The newly proposed policy changes are set to restrict the education classes and resources necessary for youth to make well-informed choices.

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The proposed policy to exclude children based on gender from recreational sport is appalling. How can recreational sport be inclusive, meaningful and engaging when children are excluded and stigmatized?

There is a newly proposed pilot project for counselling trans youth and families. We believe this project is equivalent to saying, “We are going to discriminate and stigmatize trans students, provide them with a few sessions of counselling and hope it’s enough to prevent the severe outcomes predicted by the research.”

This engagement session was nothing more than the premier asking, “How can we communicate to parents that their child will be excluded and stigmatized?” and “What resources should we provide to parents to help them understand why their child will not be treated with dignity and respect?”

As we dug deeper into the superficial questions, a number of overlapping ethical, logistical, human rights and justice issues became apparent. We pondered the slippery slope of these proposed policies: “Where will this all lead? Censorship and book burning? Increased discrimination, hate, and sex crimes?”

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Trust us, the government is not going to be transparent about the concerns parents expressed, much like they were inauthentic regarding the new curriculum, which faced harsh and informed criticism by experts.

We firmly believe parents need a voice to advocate for their children. This government removed that voice when it defunded the Alberta School Councils’ Association, whose mandate is to “represent parents on school council to engage with Alberta’s Education Ministry.”

If the government truly cared about parental input, it should have collaborated with ASCA, not defunded it.

We are not concerned about creating more problems in education and society through unsolicited policy changes. We are greatly concerned about Alberta public schools being well-funded, well-resourced, and safe and inclusive spaces. We want our teachers to be well-supported and trusted. We want the curriculum to be well-designed and approved by subject matter experts. We want public funding for teacher librarians, teaching assistants and qualified school counsellors. We want collaborative partnerships in public schools. We want all children, teachers and parents to be treated with dignity and respect.

The premier’s proposed policy changes are focused on policing, not preserving, choice for children.

Scrap these policies.

Dr. Angela Grace, Calgary; Dustin Archibald, Grande Prairie; Sheri Christensen; Steven Kotschorek; Alyssa Lewis, Edmonton; Stephanie Lustig, Fort McMurray; Nancy Hunt; Robin Kyler; Annie Rivers, Fort McMurray

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