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Youth advocate reviewing Sask. policy requiring schools to get parental permission for pronoun changes

youth advocate reviewing sask policy requiring schools to get parental permission for pronoun changes

The Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth says her office will review a new policy around pronoun use in the province’s schools.

“I am deeply troubled by the impact this policy will have on the rights of children in Saskatchewan,” said Lisa Broda in a statement issued Tuesday afternoon.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced earlier in the day that going forward, schools must now seek the permission of parents or guardians before allowing students under the age of 16 to change what the province refers to as their “preferred” name and pronouns.

For students 16 and over, parent/guardian consent is not required.

Broda said her office found out about the policy, titled Use of Preferred First Name and Pronouns by Students, through the media and had not been advised of the changes.

“Any new policy, legislation, law, or practice that may impact children and their rights compels me, under my legislative authority, to review and advise on such matters,” she said.

Duncan said earlier Tuesday that his department would work with the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth if the office planned to look at the new policy. 

At a news conference Tuesday, Duncan said there will be provisions in place for children wanting to change their name and pronouns who believe they are at risk of harm if their parents find out. 

“My view is that the default position can’t be ‘how do we keep this from the kid’s parents?’ The default position needs to be, ‘How do we provide that student with the support so that they are comfortable with their parents knowing a decision they want to make?'” he said. 

Duncan also announced that parents must be informed about the sexual health education curriculum offered in their children’s schools and have the opportunity to opt out of their children receiving those lessons. 

Duncan said the changes were driven by parents and that some schools had already begun considering policies.

“We certainly have heard from parents on this. Part of the changes today is to provide consistency across the school divisions,” Duncan said. 

When asked what experts the ministry had consulted when crafting the new policies, Duncan did not directly answer, saying that it would be consulting and researching as it went forward. 

When pressed on what would happen if experts and evidence point to this being the wrong decision, Duncan replied that he did not, “know how involving parents more is wrong.”

“We’re not going to be using outside third-party organizations from out of province. We’re going to be working with the school divisions. We’ll be working with parents and other individuals that have an interest in this. So that that will be our our plan going forward,” he said.

When asked whether she believed the new policy to be transphobic, Saskatchewan NDP Leader Carla Beck said it was. She called the decision “a new low” for the provincial government. 

“Today what we saw from this government was calculated policy to solve their own political problems and a policy that will put already vulnerable kids at greater risk,” Beck told media Tuesday afternoon. 

Beck said the Opposition NDP supports parental involvement in schools, but that there is a difference between good communication and outing children. 

Reaction pours in

Organizations began to weigh in on the changes within hours of the policy announcement.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) swiftly condemned the policy shift, saying it made it more dangerous to be a LGBTQ student in the province. 

“The new policy violates the rights and dignity of 2SLGBTQIA+ young people and is not in the best interest of students,” the CCLA said in a statement.

“Shredding the rights of students is repulsive. Implementing policy that could result in increased harm to vulnerable youth is disgraceful.”

The organization said it is ready to take the legal measures necessary to protect the rights of students in Saskatchewan. 

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation described the policy as dangerous and driven by political ideology, saying it was a “massive overreach,” in a news release Tuesday.

“[The government] states that they believe in safe and caring schools, and yet student safety and quality of education are being sacrificed to meet this government’s political needs,” said Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Samantha Becotte in the release.

The organization is calling on the province to reverse the change and consult with experts in the education sector.

Lori Johb, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, issued a simple statement on Tuesday. 

“Outing children as part of a political gamble is violent and despicable,” she said. 

Duncan dismissed concerns that the changes he announced Tuesday were similar to changes to a gender-identity policy in New Brunswick that made it mandatory to deny a request from a child under 16 to use a specific name or pronoun unless parents consent.

That policy change was found to violate the New Brunswick Human Rights Act, the Education Act and children’s charter rights by the province’s child and youth advocate last week. 

Changes to sexual education policy

Parents will have the opportunity to opt out of “all or part” of the Human Sexuality unit taught in the province’s schools, according to a letter written by Duncan and distributed to all chairs of boards of education in the province. 

All boards must also immediately pause any involvement with any third-party organization connected to sexual health education while the Ministry of Education undertakes a review of “educational resources to ensure alignment with curriculum outcomes.”

Only teachers can present sexual education materials in the classroom, Duncan said.

The policy shift comes after an incident at Lumsden High School in June, where a Grade 9 student picked up graphic sex ed material left behind by Planned Parenthood after members of the organization presented to their health class.

Planned Parenthood Regina has said the material was not directly related to the presentation, but Duncan called for all schools in the province to suspend presentations by the organization.

A policy to solve ‘political problems’

Policy changes were teased earlier this month by Premier Scott Moe in a post-byelection media conference.

He said the Lumsden-Morse byelection, which saw the Sask Party retain the seat but lose ground to the Saskatchewan United Party, sent a message that his government would be listening to loud and clear.

“A majority of voters in Lumsden-Morse still believe that it is the Saskatchewan Party that is the best option to address these concerns and we intend to do just that,” Moe said on Aug. 11.

Beck said the NDP want the province to have comprehensive sexual education, especially with the province’s high rates of teenage pregnancies. She believes it remains vital to continue providing that education. 

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