Anti-SOGI protesters lined a Prince George street Tuesday ahead of School District 57’s first public board meeting of the new school year.
A security guard stood outside the school board office doors, limiting the number of attendees to 20.
While there was no particular item on the agenda specifically pertaining to SOGI programming in schools, the issue permeated the meeting with both union representatives and the acting superintendent addressing the topic.
During her presentation, CUPE 3742 president Paula Bass, who represents support staff workers, specifically took issue with comments made by school board chair Rachael Weber at a Sept. 5 education committee meeting regarding an inclusive calendar.
The calendar identifies dates of significance for school communities like international literacy day, but also includes days like bi visibility day, gender equity week, and the transgender day of remembrance.
“This weekend I was sent a link to your curriculum hub pinboard and was shocked to find out that there are about six months’ worth of ‘sex days’ and again parents were calling me irate,” Weber had said at that meeting.
“This is not inclusion. This is not involving everyone, you are leaving people out who do not agree with this work.”
She also said the calendar was creating divisiveness and it was something parents should be teaching their children at home.
“Your beliefs are not something that every single person in this district is okay with,” Bass then told Weber during the board meeting.
“Perpetuating misinformation and calling inclusive days on a calendar ‘six months worth of sex days’ only spreads fuel to an already burning fire. The board should be the voice of reason and should be there to protect and defend students and staff.”
Bass noted that SOGI is just one strategy implemented to help create safe spaces for students and a positive learning environment.
“Our teacher partners are being vilified, our administrators are being called heinous names, and support staff are being verbally attacked by parents, and our students are at an increased danger and where are you?,” asked Bass.
“I am sorry the good old days where women and Indigenous folks knew their places and queer was a dirty secret that we didn’t talk about, are over. Welcome to the 21 century.”
Following those remarks, Daryl Beauregard, president of the Prince George District Teachers’ Association, gave a presentation where he went over various school district policies.
He highlighted policy 4117, which outlines the board’s commitment to maintaining a safe positive environment for all students, families and employees including those who self-identify as LGBTQ+.
“Us teachers, and myself as a union president, we have been trying to uphold the values of the policy for about a year now and it has gotten quite ugly,” said Beauregard. “Frankly, teachers have been taking it on the chin for a long time now defending this policy and trying to enforce the policy and to do the work that you entrust us to do.”
He asked the board to take ownership of their polices and if unwilling to do so, to table some amendments.
“But you can’t ignore them, and you can’t shove them aside, or worse, let teachers get attacked for it when we are just doing our jobs as outlined by policy.”
Later in the meeting, during her administration report, acting superintendent Pam Spooner, took a moment to speak passionately and in favour of SOGI and inclusion.
“When you are not seen in those schools, or you feel like you don’t belong in those schools, learning can’t happen and so we have a lot of work to do in our district,” she said, adding that everyone deserves to graduate with dignity.
“Being able to walk proud into a school and be able to say' hey, ‘I’m Gitxsan, I’m First Nations, or I’m lesbian or Identify as this' - so again it is really important that our staff feels supported, so that our kids can feel supported and safe in our buildings.”
Following the meeting, Weber declined to specifically address Bass’ comments regarding the Inclusive calendar but said the district is currently focused on its superintendent search, balancing the budget, and strategic plan.
“I think that's more important to focus on at this point in time, starting a new school year, and getting everybody situated so that they're comfortable with moving forward and learning.”