2 min

A glimmer of hope

New BC-wide guidelines could help queer students

Credit: Robin Perelle

There’s still a glimmer of hope on the education front, gay activists say, as the government prepares to introduce schoolyard safety legislation later this month.

Romi Chandra is one of several activists hoping the new legislation will rectify the omissions of the Safe Schools Task Force report-and directly address homophobia as a major cause of violence and bullying in BC’s schools.

Though the June report repeatedly acknowledged homophobia as a problem in its discussion section, none of its recommendations addressed the issue head-on.

Fast-forward three months.

Education Minister Christy Clark says she’s ready to move forward now with the task force’s recommendations. And she’s planning to introduce province-wide guidelines on student conduct in the next few weeks.

Still, details remain scarce.

The new conduct guidelines come from the task force report, Clark told a news conference, without much elaboration. She did say, however, that schools will be expected to revise their existing codes of conduct to ensure that they comply with the new ministry guidelines.

Gay education activists are hoping for the best. It’s a chance for the Liberals to address the issues of homophobic and gender violence that the report did not, they say.

But, so far, there’s no indication that homophobia will be addressed in the government’s new guidelines. And Clark did not return repeated calls from Xtra West to discuss the matter further.

According to her press release, Clark says the guidelines will “help make schools safe, caring and orderly.”

It also says the “strategy will help make schools places where students are free from physical harm, where there are clear expectations about acceptable behaviour and where all members of the school feel they belong.”

Moreover, school boards will be required to make annual public reports on the nature and number of violent incidents. They’ll also be required to provide information on how they responded.

Queer Vancouver school board trustee Jane Bouey is not impressed. Which incidents are schools going to report, she asks, if homophobia is not specifically cited as a problem?

How will schools know what counts as an incident unless things such as homophobic bullying are specified?

“I would hope they would specify homophobia and gender issues, both real and perceived,” Bouey says. “It would be wonderful to be pleasantly surprised.”

But she wonders why the ministry would prefer to deal with violence after the fact, while it has no curriculum in place to educate youth about the root causes of homophobia.

“There’s no understanding of the need to work on a pre-emptive basis,” she says.

With schools already being asked to do more and more reporting, where is the cash from Victoria to allow overloaded administrators to deal with even more mandated work? she wants to know.

“School boards are all waiting for more information, but nothing has been forthcoming,” the frustrated Bouey says.

Chandra, who helps organise Pridespeak presentations for schools throughout the Lower Mainland, is frustrated too.

He and other youth met with Clark over a year ago to discuss turning the Pridespeaks into a ministry-approved resource.

Not even that has been addressed yet, Chandra says.

The government is dealing with symptoms rather than educating youth about the problem that creates the symptoms, he maintains, adding that that’s why he wanted to get Pridespeak into the schools in the first place.

Clark is expected to release more details about the government’s new code of conduct guidelines by the end of September.