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Burnaby trustees can approve revised 5.45

Final vote likely on June 14

"Is it good to hide the fact that there are differences in our society?" asked Burnaby School Board chair Larry Hayes (left, with fellow trustee Ron Burton). "I think that is something we want to try and avoid." Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

The Burnaby School Board could vote on a revised draft of a contentious anti-homophobia policy early next week after the district’s policy committee recommended the draft’s approval.

The district’s policy committee gave trustees the green light to approve the revised draft at a June 14 public board
meeting in the wake of a series of sometimes-tense rallies for and against the original document, titled
Policy 5.45 Homophobia/Heterosexism. 

Reading from a prepared statement at a June 8 media briefing, superintendent of schools Claudio Morelli said copies of the revised document would not be released before the next public board meeting on June 14, in keeping with board practice and bylaws, but will be available to the public at that time.

Morelli did give some indication of the changes without going into detail.

They include a change to the policy’s title to “better reflect its objectives”; removal of language that could be perceived as subjective; clarifying how the policy is in keeping with the education ministry’s approved curriculum; and replacing definitions of terms like heterosexism with “more commonly accepted definitions.”

Noting that there’s been “lots and lots” of input, trustee Ron Burton, who was at the June 8 briefing, said parents will not have a chance to review the changes before the June 14 board meeting.

“On the 14th, it will be debated there and passed there,” Burton said. “It doesn’t go back to the parents; we’ve been through that process already. It is approved by the policy committee.”

The district’s acting communications manager, Gilian Dusting, noted that some parents were in attendance at a June 7 meeting of the policy committee and observed its members “walking through the new draft.” That meeting was “well publicized” on the district’s website, Dusting added.

Over a 14-week period, the board heard from the public by email, telephone calls to individual trustees and through some 21 delegations that made presentations at board meetings. 

Based on that feedback, the staff and policy committee “came up with what we felt were changes that would make sense, and bring greater clarification,” board chair Larry Hayes said.

“The intent in making these changes was not to change the direction that we wanted to go, in feeling that we did need this particular policy.”

During the extended feedback period, which ended June 3, some parents expressed concern about the content their children would be privy to in the classroom, especially at the elementary level.

Morelli said the district follows education ministry-approved curriculum that is age-appropriate. Anti-homophobia education at the elementary level does not include discussions about sex or sexual practices, he added.

“Things like discrimination around slurs — racial slurs or slurs around socio-economic status and slurs like ‘that’s so gay’ — would be taught to students as being inappropriate,” assistant superintendent Kevin Kaardal noted.

“It’s about allowing teachers the tools to let students know that there are other types of people, there are other relationships that people have that are part of our district,” Hayes added. “Is it good to hide the fact that there are differences in our society?” he asked. “I think that is something we want to try and avoid.

“It makes for a safer and caring and more welcoming school district and society, if people know — we’re talking secondary school children especially as they’re moving into adulthood — that the person sitting next to them might not be heterosexual,” Hayes observed. The policy is not meant to change people’s belief systems, he added.

“It’s too soon to comment, but if they pass the policy, then we’ll see what our next step will be,” says Charter Lau of Parents’ Voice, one of the groups at the forefront of the opposition to 5.45.

“My gut feeling right now is that because this policy affects every student in Burnaby and every parent in Burnaby, the right thing for the school board to do is, if they can, send the policy home and then let parents make some comments — yes, no, approve — something like that.”

Lau suggests the postponement of the board’s vote “just a little bit” to accommodate that.

“We have a lot of things in the pipeline, but now is not a good time to share it,” Lau told Xtra when asked what his group’s next step would be if it was dissatisfied with the revisions to 5.45.

“I think in a few days we would have a better idea how to present our ideas,” he says. “I expect to finish that project within this week; in a couple of days, we will announce it.”

Lau says it was “along the line” of a documentary, but he declined to offer any details about its content, except to say it was “very specifically about this policy.”

He says he doesn’t know yet if another parents’ rally is in the works to coincide with a possible policy vote on June 14. “Organizing a rally is like crazy, crazy, crazy.”