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Teachers’ society promotes inclusiveness to HSD

By: Ian Froese

Posted: 06/29/2016 10:57 PM

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Manitoba Teachers' Society president Norm Gould speaks to Hanover trustees at a board meeting Wednesday where he offered their organization's full support if trustees want their help.

IAN FROESE | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Manitoba Teachers' Society president Norm Gould speaks to Hanover trustees at a board meeting Wednesday where he offered their organization's full support if trustees want their help.

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The president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society acknowledged that change isn’t easy but he told Hanover trustees his organization would help the division’s schools be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community as the controversy surrounding sexual identity in Steinbach-area schools unfolds.

Norm Gould did not go so far during his address Wednesday to tell the Hanover School Division board they must make policy changes, but he implied it. Gould cited a nationwide survey that said there is considerable support among educators for "LGBTTQ-inclusive" education.

"We, at the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, recognize that the situation in Hanover School Division isn’t easy; it’s hard. There are many conflicting interests and perspectives at play here," said Gould. "But, at the end of the day, we are all here for the same purpose … it is about all children having every opportunity to be successful, to be included, to be respected each and every day."

In a scrum with media, Gould elaborated he wants trustees at the Steinbach-based school division to adopt at least some recommendations of the Every Teacher Project report, the survey 1,400 Manitoba teachers responded to.

Gould said he is concerned Hanover teachers are asked to phone home if a student inquires about sexual orientation.

"There should be a safe, secure, objective adult that they should be able to speak with who is not necessarily their parents," said Gould.

He adds the division should have further dialogue on when sexual identity issues should be mentioned in class.

"I’m not necessarily married to the fact that we have to discuss these things in a formal classroom type setting," he said, "but there should be an openness and an acceptance that presently doesn’t exist."

Acknowledging same-sex relationships in a classroom currently only happens in high school at Hanover.

Gould told the board MTS is extending a hand of "friendship and collaboration" to work alongside Hanover trustees if they wanted assistance. A copy of the Every Teacher Project report was provided to each trustee.

The topic of LGBTQ education in Hanover schools was the first matter on the agenda at a public board meeting for the fourth consecutive time Wednesday. This time a smaller crowd, about 20 people, was on hand.

This matter has been brought to the board’s attention by a parent, Michelle McHale, and later a student, Mika Schellenberg. They suggested the current practice of not teaching about gay people like themselves at earlier grade levels violates the province’s human rights code.

Trustees appeared set to reject their requests for change when a human rights complaint was lodged against the division last week by McHale and her partner, Karen Phillips. The legal matter has paused further board deliberation, HSD board chair Ron Falk said in an earlier interview.

Gould told The Carillon he has not heard directly from Hanover teachers about this controversy, but said the Every Teacher Project is indication he has a mandate to ensure every child is part of a welcoming school environment anywhere in the province.

NDP MLA Wab Kinew, who has challenged the provincial government to intervene in this controversy, did not speak as a delegation but was in attendance at the public meeting.

"I think that LGBTQ issues are one of the human rights battlegrounds of our time," said Kinew afterwards. "It’s been a contentious issue here in Hanover School Division, so I just felt it was important to see how things are going and connect with some of the people on both sides of the issue, face-to-face and in-person."

Kinew has advocated for changes in the legislature because he feels sexual orientation should be part of classroom discussions about human rights, which take place long before high school.

Although education minister Ian Wishart has refused Kinew’s demand that he intervene, his office has offered LGBTQ sensitivity training to Hanover trustees.

MTS has encouraged its membership on social media to attend Steinbach’s first Pride March on July 9.

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