MUSKOKA - The results are in and Muskoka’s elementary schools are having mixed reactions to the positive space signs that the Trillium Lakelands District School Board developed last spring.
These rainbow-coloured Trillium Lakelands District School Board’s positive space signs in both English and French can be found in the front hallway of Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School. Elementary schools have been less accommodating of the controversial signs.
Photo by Kim Good
Following dissention among trustees and unhappy parents who felt the signs were too focused on sexual minorities, rather than inclusivity of all, the board asked principals to have the conversation with their parent councils and report back on the overall tone with regard to the signs and what they have done with the signs to date.
The signs were part of positive space education and messaging implemented across the board last year, and bear the message: 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 intent was to have the signs posted in all Trillium Lakeland schools as a show of support for those students and others in the community, described in the signs.
However, with the negative response received from elementary school parents in particular, the board left it to individual schools to decide if it was appropriate in their school or not and where. In the few kindergarten-to-Grade 3 or -Grade 4 schools that the board has, which are located outside of Muskoka, the board pulled back completely.
“These schools, based on strong community feedback, would step back from the positive space implementation until a later date,” stated the administrative report presented by director of education Larry Hope at the January committee of the whole meeting.
The remaining schools were asked to provide feedback from their school community on the positive space signage.
“What we asked our principals to do was to make a judgment based on the conversations that they had as to the overall response and what the conversation was like at those school council meetings through September, October and November,” explained Hope.
When asked if the overall tone of the school community was 100 per cent supportive, generally supportive, mixed or not supportive, all of the board’s high schools found their school communities generally supportive. As such, signs have been posted in all of the board’s secondary schools. In Muskoka, signs are found in the front hallways of both Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School and Huntsville High School, and in the main office at Gravenhurst High School.
However, elementary school communities had a slightly less supportive reaction overall.
In Muskoka, Honey Harbour Public School, the smallest school in all of Trillium Lakelands, with just over 30 students total, was the only school where the principal reported the school community was 100 per cent supportive of the sign and it is posted in the front hallway there. Three other Muskoka elementary schools, Bracebridge Public School, Pine Glen Public School and Spruce Glen Public School, reported school communities who were generally supportive, and signs have been posted in the front hallway, main office and “not posted yet,” respectively.
The vast majority of Muskoka’s 16 elementary schools reported a “mixed” overall tone with regard to the positive space signs, and placement varies from “not posted” to the principal’s office, front hallway and in one case, the staff room.
Only two of Muskoka’s schools, Muskoka Beechgrove and Watt Public School, reported school communities that were “not supportive” of the positive space signs, although both state the signs are currently posted, in the main office and the principal’s office, respectively.
“The parent council were not happy,” explained Watt Public School principal Sharon Stahls. “They thought there should be more things in it like disabilities, religion, not just sexually oriented. They wanted to see it broader.”
Knowing there was some controversy surrounding the signs, the parent council at Watt Public School elected to take a wait-and-see approach. Though propped up in Stahls’ office, the positive space sign has not found a permanent location, as it awaits further discussion at the next parent council meeting, said Stahl.
“I have it in my office,” she said, adding, “Because it’s elementary, it’s hard for my little people.”
Now that the conversations have taken place at each school, the school board remains committed to the positive space signs as developed last spring, though it continues to be up to each individual school if they post it or not and where.
“We’re satisfied with the conversations and the feedback that we got,” Hope told trustees.
“We have talked to our principals on a number of occasions about this and they’re pleased with the feedback and input that they received from their school councils and appreciated the opportunity to talk with them as well.”