SOGI not up to school boards

There are email and social media campaigns across B.C., as well as school trustee candidates in several parts of the province, that are trying to put a stop to the implementation of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) programs in schools.

The Canadian Council for Faith and Family is just one of the groups that has fired out emails to school board candidates, including those running in Prince George, demanding they do something to stop "children as young as four years of age (being taught) that they are 'gender fluid' and can be whatever sex they want based on their feelings."

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These groups are informing candidates that their members will decide who to vote for in the general election next Saturday based on their SOGI stance.

The problem is that the personal view of an individual school trustee on SOGI is irrelevant. SOGI is provincially mandated by the Ministry of Education, meaning it's a mandatory part of the curriculum in every public and private school in the province. School board candidates appealing to voters for support because they are anti-SOGI is as ridiculous as a candidate campaigning to have Biblical creationism taught alongside evolution in science class.

And even if enough anti-SOGI school board candidates were elected to form a majority in a school district, it wouldn't matter. The instant that school board would pass a vote to take SOGI out of their local schools, the education minister would fire the board and appoint new trustees. Yes, the provincial government has that authority and yes, both the Liberals and the NDP have done so in the past for various reasons.

The limited autonomy school boards have over SOGI is that they can choose to use the SOGI 123 classroom materials provided by the education ministry or they can substitute some or all of the modules with their own in-house instruction, provided those materials are approved by the ministry and meet the overall SOGI goals. A number of private Christian schools in B.C. have come up with their own SOGI instruction that meets education ministry requirement while also accommodating religious beliefs.

And it's actually not that hard.

At the primary and elementary school grades, it's simply about teaching diversity among individuals and families, encouraging tolerance of individuals who look or act differently or hold different beliefs and discouraging discrimination. Teasing a girl about her short "boy hair" or a boy about acting "like a girl" or using phrases like "that's gay" are all teachable moments about fairness and kindness.

In the higher elementary grades and moving into the secondary grades, the specifics of orientation and identity can be explored in more detail, working from that bedrock of acceptance and tolerance. By this age, students are old enough to learn the specific words - bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex and so on - and their meanings, the harm caused by transphobia and homophobia, as well as how some young people find themselves questioning their gender and/or their orientation.

Most importantly, this education is not presented in a moral context or as a right/wrong judgment. On the contrary, it simply fosters a broader view, a "people are people" and "different strokes for different folks" mentality.

As for petitioning School District 57 candidates to do something about SOGI, these advocacy groups need to look at their audience.

The Prince George school district has been a provincial leader on this file after facing some harsh criticism that it wasn't doing enough to address bullying and provide student support. After passing an LGBTQ policy in February 2014, local school trustees budgeted for the hiring of a district inclusivity teacher. Since then, Sue Trabant has been working with schools, teachers, and families to educate and inform the entire community, while also serving as an advocate for all students, regardless of where they are on the gender and orientation spectrum, with an emphasis on the most vulnerable.

Along with Trabant, school district trustees, administrators and staff should be proud of the work to make local schools safer and more welcoming, while also instilling a more tolerant and accepting attitude in a new generation.

There will be plenty of other more important issues for the elected school board trustees to work on over the next four years, on matters where they actually have greater control over education policy.

SOGI is an excellent educational program and anyone is free to disagree with that but those complaints need to go to MLAs, not to school trustees.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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