Bill 24 is important, but nothing new.
The two primary things that this bill does is ensure that the loopholes that have been exploited in Bill 10 were closed, so that schools could in no way delay or prevent the creation of GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliance) or other similar groups at their schools by making it so that such groups are automatically granted student group status and must be supported by schools’ staff. Some may think this government overreach, but the fact remains that schools were actively preventing students from participating in GSAs by preventing their creation. One would think that if students voluntarily want to create a student group that it would be generally uncontentious. For example, I would be amazed if a school denied the application of a chess club. So then, as these GSAs are literally just student-led environments of inclusion whose focus is acceptance and comfort, if schools are going to make an issue of this, then it is the government’s role to ensure these students have access to create the environments they want. This is not without contention however. The Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association has fears that this will disrupt the structure of school boards as well as the schools themselves
Making an exception to the club creation process for this specific type of student group isn’t going to suddenly see principals throwing out all direction given to them by school boards and their superintendents. Moreover, if the worry is that by making principals only accountable to the Minister of Education in regards to this specific club they are able to contradict the direction set by their own school boards, then maybe there is an issue with the direction given to those principals. To state that it would undermine a principal’s “ability to perform their role in an effective and responsible manner at the school and community level” is to categorically misrepresent what this exception does to the process.
A principal still administers the school, and GSAs won’t suddenly militarize and depose them, so I find it hard to understand how the ability to say no to a GSA is integral to performing their role in their school or their community. There isn’t a secret cabal of queer students and staff just waiting for a GSA to finally take over the school and refuse to listen to the instructions of the principal, nor will all the other students and staff suddenly decide that since the principal had no ability to reject the GSA that they can do whatever they want. Even if the community around the school has a deep and eternal hatred for GSAs, surely they would understand that it is big bad government forcing them to happen rather than that specific principal. How then does that prevent the principal from interacting with that community, or even alter that interaction in any way? It simply doesn’t.
Bill 24 also reduces the ability of schools to report to parents that their child has joined a GSA. A worry has arisen that this would result in a “blanket refusal to communicate” with parents. I’m sorry, but if the full breadth of school communication with parents was about student attendance of GSAs then there was a problem to begin with and it isn’t Bill 24. The provisions of Bill 24 are strictly to limit the requirement to inform parents about GSAs, a requirement that had arisen because GSAs were being treated like sex-ed and CALM classes. Nothing in that provision prevents other communications with parents in regards to the rest of school activities. A further worry was the interaction with FOIP was unclear, something that Minister Eggen has addressed since.
For the most part, these are legitimate concerns, however considering they have been addressed (and were addressed before the final reading of the bill) and are actually in line with current policies at the Calgary Catholic School Board and the Fort McMurray Catholic School Board, it’s strange that the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association is still against Bill 24.