Alberta’s largest separate Catholic school district says it will comply with the provincial government’s new law to support gay-straight alliances — even as it informs parents when their children seek to join the student clubs.
“We see Bill 10 as further promoting safe and caring environments and we will continue to work hand-in-hand with the ministry to promote inclusive environments in schools and communities of caring where we show respect and dignity for all,” says Jennifer Woo, supervisor of religious education and family life for the Calgary Catholic School District.
“We see this as part of our ongoing work; it’s not new to us,” she continues. “We have always supported safe and caring environments and we continue to use the LIFE Framework, Bill 10, and all the other practices embedded in our school work. They work together to build a community in which everyone has a place and everyone belongs.”
Part of the LIFE Framework, released Feb 20 by the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta, says “parents shall be informed when their child wishes to join a student group in which one of the stated purposes focuses on issues related to sexuality or sexual orientation.”
“We believe that it’s best practice to involve parents in their children’s education,” Woo says. “We see the role of parents in their child’s education is important and do follow requirements about notice to parents, as well with respect to instruction and topics around sexuality.”
Woo says the LIFE Framework does not compel teachers and administrators to out students to parents or guardians. Staff members, she says, are required to respect the confidentially of students who disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity — unless their well-being is at risk.
“Within our student groups, students do not identify themselves nor would we require them to identify their sexual orientation,” she explains. “In our groups we seek to promote an environment in which all belong, so if they are not comfortable in sharing we would certainly not share something private in a public forum.”
According to the LIFE Framework, student groups must be led by trained Catholic facilitators and be “open from a Catholic perspective to exploration of a variety of issues, including sexual orientation, gender identity, bullying, discrimination, justice, and respectful relationships and language.”
Asked if the Catholic facilitators will integrate prayers into the GSAs they lead, Woo says that prayer has always been a normal and regular part of the school day in the district.
“As a Catholic school district, faith is permeated throughout the day and classes, athletic events and so on,” she explains. “Prayer is a part of all that, along with our Catholicity.”
“The proposed LIFE Framework is already out of date and out of touch with the realities of gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools,” says Kris Wells, director of programs and services at the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. “GSAs are extracurricular student groups, which occur outside of class time. Parental consent or notification is not required for a student to attend the chess club, so why would it be required to attend a GSA?
“These attempts at skirting the spirit and intent of Bill 10 by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association are nothing more than thinly veiled homophobia,” Wells says. “Thankfully, our Minister of Education has clearly stated there will be no parental consent requirements or notifications for students to attend a GSA, and a separate framework for GSAs in Catholic schools is not needed. There will be one set of guidelines for the entire province.”
But a spokesperson for Alberta’s education ministry says school authorities will decide how to implement Bill 10 in their districts.
“School authorities know the communities they serve and need the flexibility to use processes that have already been established at the local level,” the spokesperson tells Daily Xtra. “Therefore, while these amendments will require school authorities to allow students to form gay-straight alliances on school property, it will be up to those authorities to decide how best to facilitate this.”
The LIFE Framework also references a district resource titled Supporting Inclusive Communities which articulates the Catholic Church’s position on gay sex as “objectively disordered” and “morally wrong.”
“Scripture and tradition teach that sexual relations between persons of the same sex are not in accord with God’s original intention expressed in the plan of creation,” reads a reference document in the resources attributed to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. “For this reason, the Church has consistently taught that homosexual acts can never be approved.”
The Church calls on gay and lesbian people to “live their single lives chastely as disciples of Jesus, who followed the path of sacrifice to the glory of eternal life.”