With Finance Minister Joe Ceci scheduled to table Alberta’s budget in the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, March 22, there was plenty of activity today by advocates wanting to see big changes in provincial education.
Public schools should be the priority, says Janz
Edmonton Public School Board Trustee Michael Janz is calling on the province to prioritize the construction of public schools in new communities. Janz will introduce a motion encourging the board seek a commitment from the provincial government that ‘the first school built in any community or neighbourhood be a public school or a shared public, separate, and/or francophone board facility.’
As of September 2017, around 100,000 students were enrolled in Edmonton’s public school system, a 3.4 percent increase from the previous year. According to Janz, the board’s draft projections indicate an increase of an additional 3,000 students in the 2018-2019 school year.
The board is currently debating its Three Year Capital Plan.
3 out of 4 taxpayers say no money for elite and exclusive private schools
Some school boards falling behind on protecting sexual minority students
Public Interest Alberta has released a new report on four school boards’ policies and procedures on sexual and gender minorities that points to the need for changes to protect students and their rights. “Policies should be clear, comprehensive and unequivocal in their support for LGBTQ students, staff and families. Students shouldn’t need a lawyer to make sense of their school policies, or to find out if they’re fully protected or not,” University of Alberta assistant professor Kristopher Wells told Metro Edmonton.
Photo: Edmonton Public School Trustee Michael Janz
Under the guise of protecting school board rights, Mr. Prentice’s soon to be introduced bill would add sexual orientation to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Alberta Bill of Rights while continuing to allow individual school boards to decide whether the student GSA clubs can exist.
This would allow publicly funded religious schools, like Catholic school boards, the power to deny students the ability to create safer and more welcoming environments for their sexual minority classmates. Essentially, if a school board votes to discriminate against students for religious reasons, it is okay.
Although Mr. Prentice’s bill has not yet been made public, it is expected to allow some recourse for students. If students feel their attempts to create GSAs were unjustly blocked, they can take legal action against the school boards. That is correct, Mr. Prentice’s bill could force schools kids to hire lawyers to fight school board decisions.
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of outrage on social media against Mr. Prentice’s bill. But Ms. Blakeman’s bill was never likely going to pass in the first place.
It is not hard to see what Mr. Prentice is doing. He is a shrewd politician and he is trying to play both sides of the debate with the next election in mind. On one side, he cannot afford to allow Ms. Blakeman to make his party look like a group of backward social conservatives by not supporting her bill. At the same time, he is trying to appeal to those same backward social conservatives who want him to oppose her bill.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith may have created an opening for Mr. Prentice to appeal to these social conservative voters when she openly suggested her party’s MLAs would vote in favour of Ms. Blakeman’s bill.
Before the Premier’s announcement, Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson had introduced a series of amendments to the Liberal bill that would have watered down sections considered the most offensive to social conservatives.
After you wade through the politics on all sides of this issue, it is important to remember what this debate is really about: whether individual students can, without interference from narrow-minded school administrators, board politicians or parents, create clubs that are proven to help make school environments more safe and welcoming for some of their classmates.