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Parents threaten backlash

If Burnaby School Board passes 5.45

"We are not against the lesbian or the gay community or anybody. We want to protect them," says Daud Ismail (right, with Charter Lau at centre and Gordon World). "We feel that this group has been singled out over the rights of parents." Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth photo

A group of Burnaby parents and others opposing the Burnaby school district’s anti-homophobia plan say that if the policy passes at today’s (June 14) trustees’ meeting, the district will be held to account politically and in the courts.

Gordon World, of Parents’ Voice, made the comments as he and other parents prepared to present a petition they say boasts almost 5,000 signatures of those who oppose the policy throughout BC. The group held a news conference outside the Vancouver office of Premier Christy Clark at Canada Place. 

The petition was accepted by Chris Olsen, the press officer for Clark, who, a day earlier, said the issue had nothing to do with her.

“They have an issue with their school board. They have to resolve it at the school board level,” Clark told reporters June 13.

Parents’ Voice spokesman Charter Lau disagrees.

“Christy Clark fails to understand that the ultimate responsibility of education rests with the Ministry of Education,” he says. “You have to have one policy that is consistent across the entire province.

Many districts across the province do have policies to deal with homophobia and sexual orientation, but all are locally developed in conjunction with ministry guidelines.

Lau pointed to the policy adopted in the Peace River South School District in April as acceptable.

The Peace River policy says students shall not discriminate against others on the basis of appearance, capacity, disability, colour, ethnicity, religion, real or perceived sexual orientation or for any other reason set out in BC’s Human Rights Code. Gestures, displaying or publication of anything that would indicate an intention to discriminate against an individual or group or expose them to contempt or ridicule are prohibited.

Peace River’s assistant district superintendent Rob Dennis told Xtra the policy brings the district into compliance with the government’s direction that harassment policies should mirror the Human Rights Code.

“I think with a little bit of adjustments it will be very acceptable to most parents who oppose the Burnaby policy,” Lau posted on xtra.ca on June 2.

However, they expected the revised Policy 5.45 to be presented June 14 as a fait accompli with no further review.

Lau accused the board of violating the BC Human Rights Code, reiterating that the process has been far from transparent.

“The violation of parental trust, political abuse of the classroom and blatant disregard for the Charter [of Rights] values of equality and freedom from discrimination will not be tolerated,” Lau says.

The district would not comment on the issue prior to the trustees’ June 14 meeting.

The district’s policy committee in early June 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.

The policy proposes education initiatives inclusive of gays that speak to their positive contributions to society and a commitment to promote a systemic response to homophobia.

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.

The parents, however, say there has not been adequate consultation and protested at not being able to see the final draft, which they believe will be voted on without further input from parents.

District superintendent Claudio Morelli has said the district follows 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. And, the parents say, that’s fine; why not leave it at that?

Parent Daud Ismail stresses the group is not homophobic.

“We are not against the lesbian or the gay community or anybody. We want to protect them,” he says. “We want a policy that is designed to be representative of everyone. We feel that this group has been singled out over the rights of parents.”