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

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