MARNI PANAS: CALL FOR MINISTER OF EDUCATION TO IMPOSE POLICY OR DISSOLVE THE EDMONTON CATHOLIC SCHOOL DIVISION BOARD OF TRUSTEES IN RESPONSE TO THEIR ACTIONS DISCUSSING PROPOSED GENDER IDENTITY & EXPRESSION POLICY

I am deeply disappointed in the ECSD Board of Trustees’ in the discussion which lead to the referral of the Gender Identity and Expression policy introduced by Trustee Patricia Grell at its September 15, 2015 Board meeting. Not only was this policy acceptable in helping to create a safe and supportive environment for all students, it also met the requirements established with the passing of Bill 10.

 

This board made a public commitment on May 19, 2015, that they would engage members in the community and experts to draft such a policy by fall, 2015. With their actions today, the board betrayed their commitment to their electorate, the community, and to the brave child and her mother.

 
I, and the mother of the child, along with many experts in the community, have acted in good faith during the many hours we contributed to this process over the last three months. I first introduced a comprehensive policy and administrative guidelines in early July. These initial documents were drafted based on evidence and best practice established by other boards in this province and other parts of Canada. Many conversations since resulted in the draft policy that was introduced at the September 15 meeting.

 
However, it became clear to me in the weeks leading up to the September 15 board meeting that this board would not accept this policy. I have come to believe that this change in direction was due to the Archbishop demanding the board cease working on this policy. This belief is supported by comments Board Chair, Debbie Engel, made to me on June 22 that “… the Board exists at the will of the Bishop”. I was told that the private comments made by the Archbisop lead to the decision being made at the September 8, 2015 planning meeting to not proceed with a board initiated policy.

 
The intent and purpose of public education is thoroughly undermined when an unelected Bishop can unilaterally create policies based on a distorted view of religion rather than on well-established evidence and research. If this were allowed to happen, duly elected trustees, who are designated to represent the voice of the community, have no role or function within a publicly funded educational system. Democracy is vanquished and discrimination is allowed to flourish when trustees are actively silenced by an unelected church hierarchy.

In light of this and their disappointing conduct at tonight’s meeting, I question the Board’s ability to govern effectively and fully represent their electorate. The health and safety of all children should be everyone’s primary concern. 

Therefore, I call on the Minister of Education, David Eggen, to immediately address this issue by imposing an appropriate policy or dissolving the ECSD Board of Trustees. Further, I call on the Minister to set guidelines for all school boards in Alberta to follow in such cases.

 
I would like to commend the mother for her courage in bringing this issue forward and continuing to fight for the rights of her daughter and all children. I’d like to thank the many supporters that have been there throughout this struggle. I’d like to particularly acknowledge Patricia Grell for bringing this policy forward so that this board can be held publicly accountable for their decisions. Trustee Grell and her colleague, Marilyn Bergstra, have been true allies. They have modelled how to keep the best interests of students in mind in their roles as Trustees.

 
It saddens me that transgender people and their families have to fight so hard for the most basic of human rights. But the fight will continue.

 
Unfortunately I was unable to attend this board meeting as I am out of the country on business. However, I did watch the entire proceedings live online and have been updated regularly. I can be reached for further comment at:

 
Email: marni.panas@gmail.com

 
Twitter: @marnipanas

 
Skype: marni.panas

 
Cell: 780.953.8867

Advertisements

Open Letter to Edmonton Catholic School District Board of Trustees on Pending Gender Identity & Expression Policy Vote

Greetings,

As you prepare to discuss and vote on the policy that Trustee Grell will introduce to you today, I pray that each of you take the time to consider what truly is at stake here and vote for the best interest of the child at the centre of this issue, all transgender children in your schools and ALL children in OUR school system.

I, and [the mother], along with the assistance of many other experts and community members, have worked many hours and in good faith to create a policy that we can all accept. We believe this policy is not only acceptable but reflects Bill 10 which you are obligated to adhere to. This policy was drafted based on evidence and best practices in boards throughout this province. 

You made a public commitment to us, this community and your electorate on May 19th that you would draft this policy. Tonight is the opportunity to honour this commitment. I am concerned that many of you will be inclined to follow your fear and heed the demands of the bishop rather than carry out your obligation to represent those who elected you. The intent and purpose of public education is thoroughly undermined when an unelected Bishop can unilaterally create policies based on a distorted view of religion rather than on well-established evidence and research. If this were allowed to happen, duly elected trustees such as yourselves, who are designated to represent the voice of the community, have no role or function within a publicly funded educational system. Democracy is vanquished and discrimination is allowed to flourish when trustees are actively silenced by an unelected church hierarchy. Should this policy not be accepted, I and many others will be forced to question this board’s ability to govern effectively and fully represent their electorate. The health and safety of all children should be everyone’s primary concern.

I will not be able to attend this meeting tonight as I am in Hungary preparing to speak on behalf of other children in need (in neonatal intensive care units around the world). But I will be watching online and am monitoring the situation closely. We must all realize that a policy will be in place. Either forced upon you by the government, the courts, or through your own leadership tonight. Let’s not wait. Let’s not let other children suffer while we wait for an eventuality to happen. 

In closing, as I arrived at the main train station in Budapest today, I found myself staring at a bunch of pictures drawn by refugee children who survived long enough to make it this far. My heart broke. I couldn’t help but cry for these children while standing on the steps of this train station. We must protect all children. Those who are fleeing war, those who are hungry, and those in our schools. Wherever we can help a child, we are obligated as humans, as Christians, to do so. This day, you have an opportunity, an obligation, to help and protect the children of Edmonton Catholic Schools. I pray you do just that.

Marni Panas
marni.panas@gmail.com

@marnipanas

Petition Alberta Legislature for Schools Jurisdictions to Create Comprehensive Standalone Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression Policy for Students

So, Citizens United for Human Rights have written a petition to the Leg Assembly and are looking for as many supporting signatures as possible. The petition has been approved by Parliamentary Counsel and once tabled in the House is a matter of public record (that doesn’t mean Google, it means it’s in the Leg Library.) . MLA Michael Connolly will be presenting it. Please sign if you can. You must be a resident of Alberta to do so.

We, the undersigned residents of Alberta, petition the Legislative Assembly to urge the Government of Alberta to introduce legislation to ensure the full inclusion, safety and promotion of human rights of sexual and gender minority students in all schools and educational facilities in Alberta by requiring that all school boards create a comprehensive standalone sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression policy for students.

EPSB has one in place already. Not all school boards do. Hence the activism the same group of us have been doing with ECSD around the right of a 7 yr old girl to use the girls’ bathroom at school. Our hope is for no school board to have the right to deny existing human rights to any students; that mandating the rights in school board policy will mean they cannot wave at a student or supportive parent and say, “see you at the Human Rights Tribunal in 3 years” (where the school WILL lose, because it’s law, but they hope the cases get dropped because of time and expense) while the young person suffers… if the young person even has someone who supports and stands up for her/him/them.

If you are an Alberta citizen and have not yet signed the petition, you can download a copy at the link below, print, complete and mail the original to:

CUHR

c/o 10608 105 Ave, Edmonton, AB T5H 0L2

Download the petition here:  LGBTQPetitionstudents

CITIZENS SUPPORT TRUSTEE PATRICIA GRELL FOR STANDING UP FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF A 7-YEAR-OLD TRANSGENDER GIRL

CITIZENS SUPPORT TRUSTEE PATRICIA GRELL FOR STANDING UP FOR THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF A 7-YEAR-OLD TRANSGENDER GIRL

Edmonton Catholic School Board to Sanction Trustee Grell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Tuesday, May 19, 2015 – Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

#SupportPatricia: Citizens United for Human Rights are deeply concerned by the actions of the Edmonton Catholic School District (ECSD). The ECSD are scheduled to hold a Special Meeting on Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 at 9:00am and a public board meeting at 4:00 pm.  The only item on the morning agenda is the “Restructure of Board governance”.  It is widely speculated that the intent of the restructuring is to punish Trustee Grell for her outspoken support of a 7-year-old transgender girl who has been discriminated against by ECSD.

The mother of the child at the center of this human rights complaint (who asked her name not be used for fear of harassment) states, “I am deeply disturbed by how (Board Chair) Debbie Engel is making light of this situation.  At no point was it indicated to us that it was just a suggestion for my child to use the gender neutral washroom.  This was not indicated when a teacher followed her into a washroom and told her she is not to go in there.  So to Debbie Engel I say, ‘Shame on you’”.

“I chose to speak publicly about this issue because I was dismayed that our District chose to wait to hear the results from a human rights complaint to take inclusive action,” says ECSD Trustee Patricia Grell. “I believe that we do not need the Human Rights Commission to tell us how to treat our trans students. We have the Gospel, the teachings of Jesus Christ, and more recently, statements from Pope Francis, which tell us we are called to love and welcome those on the margins of our society.  We don’t have to agree morally with everything everyone does, but we can love and accept one another just as Jesus loves us.  I am hoping that my fellow trustees on the ECSD Board will show the same compassion for this child and all trans children attending our schools so they may use the bathroom with which they identify, and most importantly, so they may live in a place of peace and acceptance in our schools.”

As concerned citizens, we stand for human rights and the universal principles of inclusion and acceptance this 7-year-old girl deserves. Quite simply, she deserves to be treated like any other girl in her school.  We also stand for the rights of elected officials, like Patricia, to represent the voices of their constituents, and to be able to speak up against discrimination and injustice without fear of prejudice or retribution. The members of the #SupportPatricia, who organized last Friday’s rally in front of ECSD, will be present at the 4pm public meeting and encourage all concerned citizens to show their support for human rights and join us to pack the ECSD boardroom as a sign of solidarity for Patricia and this 7-year-old child who simply wants her school to love and accept her fully and completely in her lived gender identity.

If you would like more information please contact #SupportPatricia: Citizens United for Human Rights:

Marni Panas:      780.953.8867              marni.panas@gmail.com   @marnipanas

Kim Alwick:        780.200.8925               kimmieluwho@yahoo.ca     @kim_buttons