3 min

Safe schools report ‘infuriating’

Mayencourt should resign: Chamberlain

Credit: Robin Perelle

Gay education activists’ last hope for a province-wide plan to address homophobia fizzled last week when the government finally released its safe schools guidelines.

“It’s a pretty appalling document,” says a frustrated James Chamberlain. It’s vague, toothless and offers few new resources. And it does nothing to ensure that schools address homophobia, he adds.

Like many other activists, Chamberlain has been waiting for the government to release its new guidelines for months, ever since the Safe Schools Task Force presented its report last June. Though the task force shied away from any recommendations dealing directly with homophobia, some activists held onto the hope that the government might take the lead and tackle the issue itself.

Now that hope has been dashed.

“It’s just really discouraging and disappointing,” Chamberlain says.

Jane Bouey agrees. The code of conduct guidelines are particularly disappointing, says the Vancouver school board trustee.

The new report provides a basic template for schools to follow when drafting their codes of conduct. From now on, the report says, codes of conduct must open with a statement of purpose, and contain sections outlining acceptable and unacceptable forms of behaviour, as well as consequences and notification procedures in the event that the code is breached.

But the report doesn’t say what counts as unacceptable behaviour. Though it offers a few suggestions (such as “bullying, harassment or intimidation”), it ultimately leaves it to each school to determine what’s unacceptable

“That’s what disturbs me,” Bouey says. This template won’t do anything to ensure that schools address homophobia or even name it as a form of unacceptable behaviour. “It does nothing to push people who aren’t already wanting to move in that direction.”

The 67-page document mentions homophobia twice: once in an appendix and once in its initial description of what makes a school safe (people working together to “better understand issues such as bullying, intimidation and harassment, racism, sexism and homophobia” and learning new skills to respond to them).

Bouey says she had a surge of hope when she read that initial description. But it didn’t last long. “Then I turned page after page after page. …” she trails off.

Given the document as a whole, Chamberlain says the inclusion of homophobia in that description “really rings hollow” to him.

There is nothing in the document to concretely address homophobia, he points out. So how can people be expected to “better understand” it and respond to it?

Even the resources section is “largely devoid” of references to homophobia, he notes.

Granted, there are a couple of resources on diversity, such as “Diversity in BC Schools: a Framework,” but even these have been stripped of their sections on homophobia, he says. (Chamberlain should know. He worked with a committee for months to develop that book, only to see his contributions on homophobia “gutted” by the former NDP government.)

Bouey also scanned the list of resources for queer content. All she came up with was the Prideline. “I mean, Prideline is great,” she says, “but to have no other resources is just bizarre.”

It’s not like anti-homophobia resources for educators are hard to find, Chamberlain notes. It would have been easy to add a couple to the resources section.

“To me, it’s proof that the whole Safe Schools Task Force was nothing more than a public relations exercise,” he says.

“And I would go further to suggest that MLA Lorne Mayencourt should resign because of his involvement in the Safe Schools Task Force. The process has done nothing to make schools safer for queer youth.”

Though reluctant to call for Mayencourt’s resignation herself, Bouey doesn’t disagree. “It’s hard to know what goes on in government,” she says, but Mayencourt did say he was going to take the lead to make schools safer for queer students.

“If this is the end result of all his work, it’s so far from what he said he set out to do. It’s such a failure.”

The government had an “incredible opportunity” to tackle homophobia and it blew it, Bouey continues. “And that’s extraordinarily disappointing and in some ways infuriating.”

How long should the queer community wait for schools to protect their queer students? Chamberlain asks. Without any push from the government, some school boards could take 20 years, he says.

“I think it’s long overdue.

“I think we need to all work together and advocate for all queer and questioning youth at all levels of the education system,” he continues. “Because we can’t rely on the ministry of education and we can’t rely on MLAs like Lorne Mayencourt.”

Despite repeated calls, Mayencourt could not be reached for comment.