Abbotsford parents will no longer be able to excuse their children from approved learning materials based on personal values, after a new policy was unanimously approved by the school board.
The policy change comes after school board elections last fall, which were widely seen as a referendum on SOGI (sexual orientation, gender identity) policies. Numerous candidates ran in school districts throughout the Lower Mainland against SOGI, many calling it an issue of parental rights regarding the materials children are exposed to in school.
Abbotsford School District Superintendent Kevin Godden brought the new learning resources policy to school board Tuesday night, emphasizing changes to the process for parents to formally challenge the use of learning resources in their children’s class.
“I think it just needed some more rigor,” Godden said. “I just think it was a little muted in the policy. So it just needed to come forward, and part of it was the ministry really changing their policy, really delegating the entire [learning resource] responsibility to school districts, which forces us to the position of now making sure our policy is really robust.”
Asked for a copy of the new policy that highlights changes by trustee Phil Anderson, Godden said the new policy is a “big overhaul” that could not be conveniently reflected in notations on the document.
Indeed, the overall learning resources policy has been reduced from nine sections to five.
Changes to the challenge process begin with the first subsection, eliminating off the bat a clause that allowed parents and guardians to excuse their children from learning materials based on their personal views.
Section 9.1 of the old policy states that parents and guardians “have a right to excuse their child from access to material which conflicts with their personal values.”
“Irrespective of the challenge process … if any parent/guardian feels his/her concerns are not satisfactorily addressed, he/she may request that his/her child be excused from a class or portion of a curriculum and/or be provided with alternative learning resources,” the former policy states.
In the current policy, that subsection has been significantly pared down, with no mention of excusing children from class or learning materials.
Trustee Korky Neufeld, who returned to the school board after campaigning on parental rights, suggested there is likely another overarching policy that allows parents to opt their children out of personally objectionable content. However, with the exception of sexual health courses, a district spokesperson said that is not so.
“While the district respects that parents must make individual choice for their children, there is no provision in district policy or the School Act for them to opt their child out of instruction directly connected to the provincial curriculum,” school district spokesperson Kayla Stuckart said.
“Student absences could impact the teacher’s ability to assess their progress relative to curriculum standards. As a result, that may be reflected on the student’s report card.”
Neufeld did not return a request for further comment as of publication.
The process for filing a complaint has changed under the new policy, as well.
Instead of lodging a complaint with the superintendent, who “may strike a Reconsideration Committee to review the challenged resource,” the complaint is now filed with the director of instruction “who will strike a Reconsideration Committee to review the resource.”
It also includes a new, more detailed challenge form, which asks the challenger about outcomes of discussions with school staff, the perceived effect of the resource and whether the challenger has reviewed the entire resource.
Godden said he was aware of four official challenges coming forward in the last year for school material.
“I think a lot of parents don’t know about it, and I think we have to be really good to make sure it is public and upfront. Because I’m sure there’s more than four parents that are concerned about something that’s going on in their kids’ classrooms,” Godden said.
“I think some of those parents don’t know, when they don’t get the answer they don’t want, where to go. I think we’ve just got to communicate that a little better.”
Godden couldn’t name any topics that were specifically called out in the formal complaints.