The Abbotsford School Board is now allowing Social Justice 12, that includes queer content, to be offered as an elective course in secondary schools this fall.
“It’s a victory for the students of Abbotsford,” says gay activist and teacher James Chamberlain, calling the board’s initial action “a perfect example of social injustice.”
Hundreds rallied in support of Social Justice 12 after 90 students at WJ Mouat Secondary School who registered for the education ministry-approved course were told that they would not be allowed to take it.
The school’s administrators claim to have mistakenly offered the course in its 2008 calendar prior to receiving district approval.
Now, parents and guardians of students are being asked to give the final say.
“Due to the sensitive nature of some of the course content,” reads an Abbotsford School board press release dated Feb 10, “the Board believes that parents/guardians should make an informed decision about whether or not students enroll in the course.”
John Kuipers, president of the University of the Fraser Valley Pride Network, says that while parents should know what their children are learning in school anyway, course enrollment “really does boil down to what the students want to do.”
“I would hope that parents would be open and allow their children to take the education that they wanted to get,” Kuipers says, adding that schools should have support in place for students whose parents do not consent to their registration in Social Justice 12.
Chamberlain, who grew up in Abbotsford, feels that the issue of parental consent is unlikely to stop interested students from choosing the course. For those who objected to Social Justice 12 even being offered in Abbotsford, Chamberlain says calling for such consent is a moot point. “Their children wouldn’t have taken the course anyways because they’re on the extreme right,” he speculates, noting that while in some districts parental permission is required for students to participate in gay-straight alliances, it has not prevented these groups from forming.
“It’s a red herring that the school trustees are probably using just to placate conservative parents,” Chamberlain adds.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Education spokesperson Scott Sutherland says “there’s no requirement in the ministry’s curriculum documents that would suggest to a board — any board — that they need to get parental consent” when it comes to teaching approved curriculum.
While parents may request an “alternative delivery of instruction with regard to specific prescribed learning outcomes” that are part of the Health and Career Education and Planning 10 “curriculum organizer” guidelines, the ministry policy states that it does not apply to any other British Columbia provincial curriculum. Sutherland says that parents are usually only asked to sign off on a student’s choice of classes when it comes to fulfilling graduation requirements.
The school board’s press release also states “While there has been a perception that the Abbotsford Board prohibited access to the Social Justice 12 elective course, in fact no such decision was made.”
“It was censored,” he counters. “They stopped the course from being run at WJ Mouat, so in fact they did prohibit the course from continuing to run in the district.”
“The reality is they did ban the course,” Chamberlain concurs, “and there’s been a lot of heat on them in the media and from students and parents and community members.” He thinks the upcoming Social Justice Regional Conference, which will be held this month in Abbotsford, may have prompted the announcement in an effort to head off negative press.
Xtra West’s attempts to reach Julie MacRae, superintendent of schools for the Abbotsford school district, were unsuccessful up to press time.