Thursday, November 02, 2017

Of Rights, and Parents, and Children and GSA's and Confidentiality.

In the middle of October we had Municipal elections here in Alberta. That means the city/town/county councils were elected and so too were local school boards (both public and separate). And a significant subset of those running for school trustee were running on a concept of "protecting (or preserving or restoring) parental rights". Which might have made sense if those rights were somehow under attack, or if those rights automatically trumped the rights of their children.

Maybe a little bit of history first...

A few years ago there was a great uproar in Alberta about the presence or absence of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA) in schools.  Because in the minds of some having a GSA "promotes the Gay agenda". Out of those discussions it was made law that any school where a GSA was requested, presumably by the students, was required to facilitate and support the creation and operation of said group.

Then there came the issue of transgender students. Another uproar (started by the face that one of the largest Separate Boards n the province had a very public dispute over how to best serve the needs of a transgender student when it came to bathroom and change room issues. And so all school boards were required to submit a plan for how said needs would be met.

[SIDEBAR: Lost in this whole fight, which was really our equivalent of the "bathroom bill" argument that has happened in many places was the fact that school washrooms have been unsafe places for decades. How many people have been bullied in school washrooms over the years? A simple solution for new construction is to do away with multi stall washrooms altogether. Instead have a series of self-contained (full wall, full door) single user water closets with a set of sinks in the adjoining hallway. Then many issues around washrooms get resolved at once]

THe next salvo in the battle was teh supposed parental rights piece. SOmeone got it in their head that parents have a right to know everything their children do at school. And so the parents ave a right to know if their child joins a GSA, or expresses that they are questioning their sexuality or gender identity, or comes out as non-heterosexual or non gender conforming. Further this right somehow exists regardless of whether said child is comfortable with their parents being told.

Understandably there are some of us who find this understanding troubling, and potentially dangerous.

I  think parents do have a right (and duty and responsibility) to be involved in the lives of their children and teens. I also believe that those children and teens have rights about who knows what about their lives. And sometimes those rights will come into conflict. What do we do when rights conflict? Do we claim (as I see the parental rights lobby doing) that one set trumps the other? Or do we recognize that  rights are rarely absolute and that there is a need to negotiate how competing/conflicting rights will coexist? In the case of children and youth I think we will find that the balance point is going to vary based on the age/maturity/development of the child/youth. There are times when parents will need to be told something a child would rather they not hear but only when it is to protect the safety (physical, emotional or mental) of the child/youth. Not just because the parent thinks they need or want to know.

Besides, I am confused. In the recent leadership election for our official opposition one of the candidate stated that parent should be told if a child joins a GSA. To which others said he wanted to out LGBTQ children/youth (note that I am sure said candidate has few qualms about outing LGBTQ folk and he has a history of supporting heterosexist political positions). But simply joining a GSA says absolutely nothing about one's sexuality. It says that you believe all your classmates should be supported. If only LBGTQ folks joined a GSA it would 't exactly be a Gay Straight Alliance would it?

I am a parent, of 4. I have seen no sign that my rights as a parent are being threatened by the school system. If anything I think that we are over-accomodating in one instance. PArents have the authority (backed up by court rulings under parental rights clauses) to have their children exempted from sexuality education (which if done well not only includes the "facts of life" and contraception but also information around sexual orientation and consent and gender identity. No reason must be given just upon a request the child can be exempted (so the objection could be religious, or it cold be that the parent finds it "icky" or that the parent does not want to admit their child is ready.needs to learn the concept...). I am not sure that this is in the best interests of the child or of society as a whole.

I just don't get it. What I do maintain is that when these decisions are made the primary consideration is not what parents like/do not like. The primary consideration of educational decisions is what is best for the student. Sometimes that means keeping confidentiality (which is not the same as keeping a secret, it is recognizing that we each have our own story and need to have the right to share it as we are comfortable). SOmetimes it will mean helping a student get to teh point of being able to share that story for themself. And in very rare occasions it might mean breaking confidence to ensure the safety of the student. But the primary piece is the well-being and safety of the student. Parents are actually second in this discussion of rights.

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