School sets policy on gender identity and sexual orientation

Jozef Varga paints the red stripe of a rainbow crosswalk in front of Penticton Secondary. Varga and the fellow students who joined in the project on July 13, were inspired to take on the project after the recent shootings at a gay nightclub in Florida. Steve Kidd/Western News

The Okanagan Skaha school district has passed a new policy on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The policy was sent out to receive feedback from students and counselors at Penticton Secondary School, Summerland Secondary School and Princess Margaret Secondary School. The policy was also open to hearing from staff, administrators and DPAC members. The school board said they did not receive any negative feedback during the process.

One of the concerns that came forward had to do with pronouns. The board found that many students come out at school before they do at home and the students wanted to know if it was OK for them to give the preferred name or preferred gender to the school themselves. The school board said a legal name would have to be present on certificates and official documentation that would be sent to B.C. Education but the new policy does allow for the student to have their preferred name used in other settings.

Another issue that was part of the feedback to the board was washrooms and private change stalls in washrooms.

“We had some feedback from students that were interested in whether there would be possibilities that as facilities are built, could single stall washrooms be installed and privacy concerns addressed that way. What we have done is looked at each school in its own context and have administrators work with students and staff around if there are already washrooms available that are single stall,” said Todd Manuel, assistant superintendent.

All three schools have made some moves towards having single stall washrooms in their buildings, said Manuel.

The policy includes the right to be addressed by a name and pronoun that corresponds to their gender identity, right to participate in sports and other activities in a manner that respects and embraces their gender identity, right to access washrooms and change rooms based on gender identity among other regulations and procedures.

A ministerial order was made in September that explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity be added to the policies that school districts and independent schools are required to have in place, Okanagan Skaha already had plans to move forward with it last school year.

Students, staff and members of the school communities are to adhere to conduct that prohibits any form of discrimination, intimidation or harassment against any person.

The new policy covers conduct that takes place in the school, on school property, at school sponsored functions and activities, on school buses or vehicles and bus stops and also pertains to electronic technology and communications including school computers, networks, forums and mailing lists.

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