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Opting out of inclusivity

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Last week the Abbotsford School District changed their policy allowing parents to opt their children out of class time dedicated to material that conflicted with their personal beliefs. The 17 candidates running for school trustee in Abbotsford’s municipal election last October all answered questions related to the controversial SOGI (sexual orientation gender identity) inclusive education system created by the B.C. government in 2017, which is triggering some parents into wanting to take their children out of the classroom on occasion.

Firstly, let’s get this out of the way: SOGI is not a curriculum of its own to be implemented in the B.C. education system. It is, according to the SOGI website, “one aspect of diversity that is embedded across a range of grades and subject areas.” It’s a large tool box of resources for teachers to open the conversation with their students about topics like gender pronouns, gender identity and media stereotypes, and LGBTQ2+ human rights. The fundamental idea behind the SOGI-inclusive education system is to learn about treating those around us with respect and dignity in spite of our differences. It is a way for LGBTQ2+ students and students with family members that identify as such to be represented in class material, in a way they haven’t been previously. SOGI is also an anti-bullying campaign in response to the stats the B.C. government published in 2017 saying that in the previous 12 months, 28 per cent of LGBTQ2+ students had attempted suicide. This is significantly higher than the four per cent of heterosexual high school students who attempt suicide. The government is doing their part to heighten awareness of lifestyles that may be different to a hetero-sexual lifestyle within the school system. It is not a way to convince children in B.C. to change their genders, as some parents seem to think, judging by the intense backlash the program is generating throughout Abbotsford.

According to the Abbotsford News, 10 out of the 17 candidates for school trustee answered the question “I accept that the school district must have a SOGI-inclusive code of conduct along with anti-bullying policies, which are mandated by the provincial government,” with “strongly agree” and “agree” while two answered with “disagree.” Six candidates were “neutral.” With this in mind we can see that those running for the position made their stance on the subject very clear. Of the seven candidates that became elected, Stan Petersen, Shirley Wilson, Rhonda Pauls, and Freddy Latham stated they “strongly agree,” Preet S. Rai said “agree,” and Korky Neufeld and Phil Anderson labeled themselves as “neutral” towards the issue.

The old Abbotsford School District Learning Resource Policy stated that parent(s)/guardian(s) could excuse their child from access to “material which conflicts with their personal values” and then request “alternative learning resources,” while the updated version approved on Jan. 22, 2019 states, “Where a resource is in use in a classroom, parents/guardians have a responsibility to respectfully discuss any concerns with the child’s teacher to arrive at a mutually agreed upon solution.” This new statement completely wipes out the idea of having a child removed from the classroom, therefore leaving it to parents and teachers to conduct a civil conversation about it while still making sure the child is not missing out on any course material.

The school board’s vote for this was unanimous. All of the candidates clearly stated their views on the SOGI initiative and that students must be present when these topics are discussed. But, like all political decisions, there are haters.

The thing that surprises me the most about those against SOGI is how outspoken they are on the topic. When I read comments on Facebook or online news articles, most of them are from those who are not in favour. One bold SOGI hater commented that not letting parents take their child out of class time when material from SOGI is discussed is “straight up child abuse,” adding to supporters: “Keep your degenerate lifestyles and choices to yourselves.” Of course now in 2019 we should know to avoid intense comment wars on social media, but I couldn’t look away from that one. How have we become so hateful towards our neighbours that we tell them to leave their “degenerate lifestyles” to themselves? Is it really all that bad that a grade five student’s math problem would ask the student how to calculate the amount of apples Jimmy and his two mothers have picked together?

It seems absolutely absurd to me that in this day and age, people are so hostile to those around them. To me it feels like those against SOGI don’t completely understand what it is. The official definition of SOGI is listed above. People need to understand that it’s simply resources for teachers to use to help students in the classroom learn about the diversity of families and differences in our province. No one is forcing a child to become homosexual.

Some argue that these topics should be left for discussion at home, but the problem with that is that there are plenty of children whose parents/guardians are not thoroughly informed about the topics of inclusivity that revolve around our culture as opposed to the B.C. teachers who have access to the SOGI initiative to handle these conversations in a peaceful and accepting manner. Is it really so bad that a parent can’t take their child out of class time where they will learn how to accept and care for those in their classroom even though they are different?

Image: Kayt Hine/The Cascade

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