“With the passionate debate taking place in the legislature about Bill 8, I feel it’s important to clarify a few important misconceptions about student protections under the Education Act.
“To be absolutely clear: our government opposes mandatory parental notification of student involvement in inclusion groups, and Alberta will have among the most comprehensive statutory protections for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Canada.
“Once requested by students, creating a GSA is not optional. In Alberta, like Manitoba and Ontario, the Education Act specifically guarantees in legislation that students are entitled to create inclusion groups, including GSAs and QSAs. Compared to legislation in Ontario and Manitoba, the Education Act provides greater direction regarding the appointment of a staff liaison for the student organization.
“With amendments introduced through Bill 8, we are also clarifying that board obligations regarding welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments, policies and publicly available student codes of conduct apply to all publicly funded schools – including accredited private schools.
“Reference has also been made to Nova Scotia and British Columbia, which have no overarching provincial statutes protecting GSAs. Unlike the Education Act, British Columbia’s ministry directive and Nova Scotia’s provincial policy are not enshrined in provincial legislation.
“The privacy of students is also protected under Alberta’s strict privacy laws. Schools cannot disclose a student’s membership in any inclusion group, as there are student privacy considerations that trump other legislation, including the Education Act and the previous government’s Bill 24.
“All school authorities are required to follow privacy legislation: publicly funded schools must follow the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and private schools must adhere to the Personal Information Protection Act. School authorities may only disclose personal information if authorized under these laws.
“We also recognize every child is unique and every circumstance is different. Legislation needs to balance protecting children and their privacy with the rights of parents, so children are getting the supports they need. Though it would be rare, disclosure of GSA/QSA membership would only be justified on the basis that the disclosure would avert or minimize a risk of harm.
“Unlike the previous government, we trust professional educators to navigate these difficult situations to do what is in the best interest of kids. No responsible teacher or principal would ever reveal a child’s sexual orientation. This approach provides a clear balance between student privacy and parental rights – a balance and clarity that was not found in Bill 24.
“Our government believes that the safety of students in school is paramount. I am looking forward to engaging students, parents, teachers and administrators as we work together to build a modern education system which supports all students.”