Cowichan school district LGBTQ policy ‘out front’, but still more to do

The Cowichan Valley school district may have “an excellent policy” for LGBTQ but now it’s time to move even further forward

The Cowichan Valley school district may have “an excellent policy” covering the issue of treatment of LGBTQs but now it’s time to move even further forward, Schools Superintendent Rod Allen told the board of education at its last meeting.

He said that during a day-long session he’d attended on sexual orientation and gender identity policy, he’d had the chance to see some great material that could help in Cowichan.

“It pointed some direction for us here in the district and identified that we have an excellent policy. However, having policy isn’t enough. So it’s helped us identify some action steps we could be taking as we enact and enable that policy.

“A fact for me that was surprising is that approximately 19 to 20 per cent of our community would identify as LGBTQ. So we would know that was 20 per cent, approximately, of our students, 20 per cent of our staff, and 20 per cent of our elementary schools are in that group. We saw some quite moving material about how this can happen at a very young age, when students aren’t using the language but know that something’s not quite right with how they are feeling and how they are identifying,” Allen said.

Within the district some action has been taken already.

“We have signage up in schools, non-specific washrooms in schools — those kinds of things. However, there is still a lot for us to do as a school district and as a community as we think about all of those kids. It was a really good day and we are pursuing some of the resources that were used with us to be able to put them in the hands of schools,” he said. “It was interesting to see how we are way out front with our policy.”

Adopted June 18, 2014, the school board’s policy No. 6510 on “sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” says that the board “recognizes and values the diversity found within its school community and believes that each individual contributes to the strength of the district’s culture.”

The policy says the board also recognizes that students and their families, employees and volunteers who identify as or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (LGBTQ) “face a unique set of challenges within our schools and communities.”

This often results in “a struggle with a variety of profound social consequences including discrimination, harassment, physical and sexual violence, social and emotional isolation, substance abuse, homelessness, school truancy and drop-out, self-harm and suicide,” the policy says.

Because of these challenges, the board has been attempting “to provide a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment for all students and their families, employees and volunteers, including those who identify as or are perceived to be LGBTQ.”

Ensuring an environment free of discrimination, harassment and intimidation means, however, that school trustees have to discover and implement strategies and guidelines that support respect and dignity.

“The board will not tolerate any behaviour that is discriminatory, harassing or intimidating towards students and their families, employees or volunteers, including those who identify as or are perceived to be LGBTQ,” the policy says.

As superintendent of schools, Allen is tasked with the authority and responsibility for administering the policy in the district.

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