Education Minister Adriana LaGrange made her first address to the Alberta Teachers’ Association Saturday and was immediately greeted by a flutter of rainbow flags, raised by teachers in the audience at the Edmonton Convention Centre.
The gesture spoke to an ongoing point of tension between LaGrange’s United Conservative Party and the 40,000-member teacher’s association — gay-straight alliances in schools.
LaGrange was speaking to hundreds of teachers who had gathered for the ATA’s annual representative assembly.
During her speech, LaGrange reiterated parts of the UCP education platform, including that it will re-visit the curriculum review started by the previous NDP government and that her government will proclaim the Education Act, first introduced by the last conservative government in 2012.
Critics argue the act will take away protections for students who join gay-straight alliances. But LaGrange has said the UCP will not support “mandatory parental notification or ‘outing’ of any student.”
At issue is Bill 24, passed by the previous NDP government, which prohibits teachers from informing parents about a child’s participation in the alliances, unless the child is in danger.
ATA president Greg Jeffery said that bill provides teachers with clarity about how to handle delicate conversations about a student “coming out” or otherwise participating in a GSA.
Teachers may find ways to side-step any new legislation introduced by the UCP that does not provide that clarity, he suggested.
“I think we might see a lot of teachers make sure they didn’t even know who is participating in this GSA, that way they can say, ‘I don’t know,’ as a legitimate answer.”
The teachers later passed a resolution at the assembly to urge the government to respect “the or ability of individual students to determine if and how their membership … in a gay-straight/queer-straight alliance … is disclosed to other persons.”
The debate over how the new UCP government will legislate GSAs was part of larger election-period criticisms from the NDP about how a conservative government will treat the LGBTQ community.
The NDP has pointed repeatedly to Premier Jason Kenney’s own record on LGBTQ issues, including his role in a campaign to strip the rights of gay couples during the 1980s AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, and his refusal to eject MLA Mark Smith from the party after a sermon was released in which Smith questions whether homosexual love is “good love.”
LaGrange promises new schools
LaGrange introduced herself to the teachers as a representative with hefty experience in her portfolio.
The minister, who represents the riding of Red Deer North, is the mother of seven adult children. She served as a trustee in the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for more than 11 years and was also president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association.
LaGrange said the UCP government has a plan to “improve educational outcomes” and, she said, “we will be building new schools.”
She said the government wants to audit class sizes in Alberta to find out what happened to previous funding that had been dedicated to reducing class sizes in the province.