Sask. education minister says Regina Public policy ‘impetus’ for pronoun bill

Regina Public said the procedure in question was created with extensive consultation and “in good faith” with staff, students and parents.

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Education minister Jeremy Cockrill says a specific procedure active in Regina Public School Division was the spark that ignited government’s interest to introduce a province-wide parental inclusion policy over students’ pronouns.

On the floor of the legislature Monday, and again following session, Cockrill said an administrative directive in the Regina school division on sharing a student’s preferred pronouns prompted concern, because it “excluded” parents from conversations about students’ changing gender identity.

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“When you have one school division that comes forward and is explicitly excluding parents in reporting discussions involving their children,” he said, “when we talk about the impetus for Bill 137, that really was the impetus.”

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Available openly on Regina Public’s website, the Students and Gender and Sexual Diversity procedure is presented as an administrative procedure that guides operations on a division level, to “define appropriate behaviours and actions in order to prevent harassment and discrimination” of students over sexual orientation or gender identity.

It says that “every student has the right to be addressed by a name or pronoun that corresponds to their gender identity,” and that staff are to “respect confidentiality and privacy and not disclose sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression of students unless the student has given permission or there is an impending safety concern.”

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When pressed by reporters Monday, Cockrill said he considers parental exclusion “would be the operational implication” of that directive.

“The way that I read that policy, that Regina Public has, it started from the default position of excluding,” he said.

“We believe that parents have an important role to play in those conversations, and so when they’re excluded, explicitly or implicitly, then that’s something that we need to correct.”

Both Cockrill and predecessor Dustin Duncan have previously said the catalyst for government’s pronoun consent policy was correspondence from parents and constituents to MLAs, as has Premier Scott Moe.

Moe backed his minister Tuesday, saying Regina Public’s procedure is “one of the precipitous that would have spurred a number of parents to start reaching out to their elected members,” before referencing recent outcry after a sexual health education mis-step in Lumsden as another.

“We have a school division that has changed from what has traditionally been the policy in our schools in the province,” Moe said.

He called Bill 137 the way in which government is “returning us to status quo, regardless of where you live.”

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“There’s very much people on both sides of this conversation,” said. “With respect to government, we are listening to all people and moving in the direction of what our parents are asking us to do.”

Regina Public Schools declined interview requests on Tuesday, but provided a written statement via email.

The division asserts that the administrative procedure is not new, but was added in June of 2022 on recommendation of a special committee on diversity formed in 2019.

“The school division has shared values which speak to respect, belonging and responsibility and this Administrative Procedure honours those values,” reads Regina Public’s statement.

“We always have and always will work with parents, families and caregivers to keep them informed and ensure student well-being.”

Spokesperson Terry Lazarou said that division administration developed the procedure “in good faith” with stakeholders, students and parents, after lengthy consultation.

Regina Public said it has “never had a complaint or criticism of how the school division promotes student safety and protection in schools from any of the families of more than 26,000 students.”

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“Further, we have never had an inquiry from the Minister about this procedure,” reads the statement.

Regina Public did not offer comment on the education minister’s accusations of exclusion, but Lazarou said inclusivity is a priority within the division.

Members of the 2019 special committee became an internal steering committee for Regina Public in 2021, indicating an ongoing importance in promoting inclusion. That committee still operates internally.

“Diversity is an evolving process, understanding it and applying it,” said Lazarou. “We’re constantly working with our employees and our students on their needs, and on understanding change on a variety of issues relating to inclusiveness.”

With a new strategic plan for the division to be presented Tuesday evening, Lazarou said “inclusion is very much part of any plans we have going forward.”

— with files from Alec Salloum

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