Controversy over signs at TLDSB schools continues
Trustee meeting becomes heated over whether or not to consult experts on the wording
MUSKOKA - While no one is arguing the importance of displaying a sign in schools stating the school board’s stance on being an accepting and welcoming environment for all, the language used on these signs continues to cause some controversy, even among trustees.
positive space signage.
Trillium Lakelands District School Board positive space signage.
Last spring, the Trillium Lakelands District School Board provided all its schools with positive space signage, stating “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 signs were to be placed at the school’s discretion.
At the time, some trustees and parents found the wording to be inappropriate for young children and disliked that homosexuals were being singled out for the board’s support.
The discussion around the wording returned at the Sept. 11 committee of the whole meeting when City of Kawartha Lakes trustee John Byrne made a motion asking trustees to approve wording for a new sign that he had modelled after the Human Rights Code: “We welcome you to our school where every person has a right to equal treatment without discrimination or harassment regardless of their race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, disability, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status or family status.”
“I feel it’s time as elected officials to step up to the mark,” Byrne stated emphatically. “Let’s not forward this to any other committee for consideration.… The words I’m proposing come directly from the Canada Labour Relations Code and the Human Rights Code and they have stood the test of time.”
The discussion quickly became heated when City of Kawartha Lakes trustee and board chair Karen Round, who had passed the chair’s role to her vice-chair, Gravenhurst, Muskoka Lakes, Georgian Bay trustee Louise Clodd, for the evening, proposed an amendment to Byrne’s motion. She asked that an ad hoc committee of the board’s senior administration staff with trustee representation to be determined through Chair’s Council be formed to discuss the wording on the sign. The Chair’s Council consists of the chair, vice-chair and past-chair.
“The intent behind this amendment is to ensure the language is appropriate,” director of education Larry Hope explained to Byrne on Round’s behalf. “For example, the word sex is inappropriate in a sign like this. Gender is the correct term. We want to make sure we include and are as inclusive, based on the Ontario Human Rights Code, as we can be.”
“My fear is that this is going to get watered down so greatly,” replied Byrne. “As far as I’m concerned the motion to amend it is an attempt to get this off the table now and I don’t feel it should be off the table. A difficulty with sex versus gender, I don’t have a problem amending that, but to take this motion off the floor by what I consider a back-door way of getting this off the table….”
Round quickly interjected.
“If it was my intention in any way to back door this or any of the other comments that you have erroneously made then I would have had a motion to withdraw,” she responded angrily. “I am recommending that having had difficulty with signage come at the table that perhaps this best be viewed by our best people … to ensure that we are legally correct, that we are abiding by human rights, and what is appropriate.”
Byrne offered his apologies for offending Round, but reasserted that he did not see the problem with wording that came directly from the Human Rights Code.
Bracebridge trustee Tony Armstrong voiced his support for Round’s amendment for the benefit of “sober second thought.”
“I would hate to see us vote on something so profound without lots of thought and lots of input and to make sure this sign, if we want to move forward with it, is profound and that the people that it affects, it affects in a very positive manner,” said Armstrong.
Huntsville trustee Bruce Reain also agreed that discussion over wording needs to happen and added that perhaps some of the controversy over the positive space signs could have been avoided had a similar discussion occurred at the trustee level prior to their release.
“We’ve all heard comments about signs that are in some of our schools already,” stated Reain. “We didn’t have this discussion prior to installation of those signs. I think that’s a lesson that I believe we all need to take from this … so that we have this discussion before it’s in our face, before parents are talking to us about it.”
The majority of trustees, including Byrne, approved an amended motion to create the ad hoc committee to discuss the wording, but also added further amendments allowing any trustee who wanted to be on the committee to take part and January 2013 as a timeline for when the committee will report back.
Two more motions by Byrne, adding heterosexuals to the positive space plaques that were released in the spring and restricting those signs to high schools, did not receive seconders and therefore died at the table.