Gay-Straight posters in schools causing ripples
Signage not part of anti-bullying legislation
MUSKOKA – A campaign within the Trillium Lakelands District School Board to promote inclusion for students whose sexual orientation is different from heterosexual, is causing concern among some parents. At issue is the choice of wording used for the campaign, Promoting Positive Space.
POSITIVE SPACE: .
Pictured above is the sign delivered to schools in the Trillium Lakelands District School Board for its Positive Space campaign in support of homosexual students.
All elementary and high schools within the board have been given posters with a message reading, “This is a place where all people are respected, and where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and two-spirited people and their families, friends, and allies are welcomed and supported.”
The concern is that students in the junior elementary grades are too young for such language.
Their innocence should be maintained as long as possible, argue opponents.
During a recent board meeting, trustee John Byrne said he has received several letters about the campaign, with the majority being negative and only one in support.
“Is putting up one poster really all that hard to accept if we help the children who need it?” read Byrne from the letter of support. “Could the wording of the poster be changed? Sure. Could the school board approach it in a different way? Certainly. Should the issue be disregarded? I don’t think so.”
While Byrne said he agrees with the intent “wholeheartedly,” he himself isn’t a fan of the language on the signage.
“I think it’s inappropriate for some age levels,” he said. “I also have difficulty as a heterosexual that it is not included in the description … all sexual orientation should be on the poster. Heterosexual’s not there, and if you want to foster discussion it has to all be out on the table.”
However, director of education Larry Hope countered, “It’s not the heterosexuals we’re worried about being accepted at our schools; they’re already accepted.”
During an interview with the Forester, Hope said these signs are just the first step in support of students, or their family members, whose sexual orientation is different than heterosexual.
“We don’t disagree with parents who suggest they’re uncomfortable with it,” he said. “What we’re hoping we can do is use this as an educational opportunity. We know that in many, many instances in our elementary schools, students are using inappropriate terms and language to describe sexuality or sexual choice. We see this truly as a teaching opportunity. It never was our intention to offend anyone or create discomfort among our parent community.”
Information about the positive space campaign was delivered to parents in the June newsletter, around the same time the Province’s anti-bullying legislation – Accepting Schools Act, Bill 13 – was passed.
The timing had some parents thinking the school board was singling out a specific group to satisfy the requirements of the bill.
“The timing was just coincidental,” said Hope. “The signs were in the works long before the bill passed.”
The board’s equity and inclusion committee chose the wording for the signage. Members looked at a number of positive space signs from other school boards and private businesses, explained Hope.
But a number of parents thought they should have had an opportunity to give input about the wording before the posters were chosen and delivered to schools. However, Hope said none of the board’s committees have parents as members. The board is now in the process of gathering feedback.
“Some of our elementary schools may not feel they’re ready for this in the front foyer or main hallway,” he said. “Maybe it’s better in the staff room or principal’s office at this time.”
Hope said the board has left it up to the principals to decide where the signage should go at the moment, or if they even want to put it up yet.
“We want to be thoughtful about how to roll it (the campaign) out,” said David Crawford, principal at Pine Glen Public School. “Our mandate is to provide a good, rounded education for everyone. It’s an important issue of inclusion and acceptance and welcoming.”
Teachers at the school are talking with parents about when and where to display the posters. Since school is nearly finished, it probably won’t be on display until September.
At Huntsville Public School the sign is currently on display in the office.
“After we’ve had a bit of time to explain what they mean and what they’re for and decide which children in the school we need to speak with about it, we’ll put them in the halls,” said Principal Ross Jewiss.
He said it’s certainly more of an intermediate grade issue and teachers need to determine how much understanding and knowledge students have and how much exposure they need.
“There’s some very big words in there that elicit questions,” he said. “There are some kids that can’t read the words and they wouldn’t understand the concept if we told them. So for those kids, that’s why it’s important for them to be exposed, to have literature in the school. We don’t necessarily need to flaunt it but the kids need to be aware of it.”
For Jewiss, it’s a very topical discussion as there are students and members of students’ families within the school community who are homosexual.
“It’s a modern day reality and I think to not acknowledge it is almost to deny it at this point,” said Jewiss. “It’s a reality and we don’t want any shame, we don’t want any embarrassment because of it. It’s natural and it’s part of our culture these days.”
He also said it’s important schools look at their resources and materials, especially handouts that may go home discussing family in terms of the traditional sense, a mother and a father, where some students may have two mothers or two fathers.
“We don’t teach tolerance here, we teach acceptance.”
VK Greer Public School’s Principal, Ken Waddell, agreed with Jewiss’ line of thinking.
“I know there probably aren’t a lot of elementary students who are aware of or identify with this, but I do know there are students in our schools that have families or siblings that do,” he said. “So it’s not just about the students that attend our schools, it’s about their families and siblings and cousins and so on. I think it’s important to raise that awareness.”
The sign is on display in his office. The board will continue to work on the campaign messaging and Hope said there is a possibility the signs could change.
“For us, it’s all about evolution and timing,” he said. “We know times are changing whether we agree, individually or not, with this particular lifestyle.”
Information about the campaign will soon be available on the board’s website, www.tldsb.ca.