School trustee candidates weigh in on SOGI 123

Voters go to the polls Oct. 20.

The province adopted the SOGI 123 program to promote inclusiveness in schools regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion. The issue has generated social media debate during this election campaign. How do you feel this program does or doesn’t provide a positive learning initiative for Central Okanagan students?

Kelowna

Chelsea Frank

“There seems to be quite a lot of confusion and misconception in our community regarding SOGI 123, myself included. I have since researched the topic and it appears to me that there us a lack of understanding as to what exactly the SOGI 123 program is and it’s intentions,” said Chelsea Frank.

“This is a program that is intended and designed to ensure all people who attend a school are welcomed and to ensure that their fellow students have at least the awareness of what that individual may be going through at the time. SOGI 123 is simply a collection of tools and resources posted by the ministry of education online, which teachers, students, parents, and administrators may use if they choose to,” said Chelsea Frank.

Frank says this initiative simply provides additional resources to address a new and ever evolving segment of our population.

“People who deserve to be welcomed and feel safe the same as everybody else. I invite everyone to go online to www.sogieducation.org to educate themselves and see the tools that have been given to us all as a community to ensure a safe place for all students.”

Joachim Nierfeld

Regarding SOGI 123, Joachim Nierfeld understands the initiative as a collection of age appropriate educational resources provided to teachers to use, when appropriate, within B.C.’s new curriculum. He said this makes sense to him and is personally in favour of it.

“Also, since this issue has been brought to my attention I visited elementary and middle schools and talked to principals and teachers about SOGI 123. I have yet to hear one negative experience,” he said.

“I did, though, at the Rutland meet and greet forum with all-candidates last Tuesday‎, speak with a few parents and grandparents who had concerns about the age appropriate part of the program.

“I listened to examples and will follow up on those stories as I believe that a school trustee should always be approachable and then also really investigate the individual cases.”

Joel Fraser

Joel Fraser says the SOGI 123 program is beneficial for children learning to respect differences among us.

“I do, however, think the teaching aids or lesson plans currently developed over step the bounds of respect. From my readings, I don’t think kids in the Kindergarten to Grade 2 range have the capacity to differentiate the science of the issue with what they are being taught,” Fraser said.

“I’d like to see the program kept for the inclusivity aspect, but tailored slightly to teach that differences do exist and we should give people respect at a minimum.”

Julia Fraser

Julie Fraser says as a school trustee, she supported providing teachers the necessary resources to help their students in the classroom with unexpected questions that may arise.

“SOGI 123 is not a course or curriculum. SOGI 123 identifies three steps school districts are required to take to ensure all students feel welcomed and included in our schools,” Fraser said.

She identified those steps as: 1) make changes to policies to meet the changes to the B.C. Human Rights Code; 2) create inclusive environments; 3) ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity resources are included when appropriate.

“There is some emphasis on LGBQT2 students who are often marginalized. It is often in relation to their peers that children begin to develop a perception of themselves and of the world around them. As such, a student’s experience in school can have a major effect on his or her self-image and self-esteem, and on his or her development in later life,” Fraser said.

“I believe that providing an ‘inclusive,’ accepting environment provides opportunities for our children to develop personally, socially and academically. I am in favour of SOGI 123. It is vital that all students feel welcomed and included in our schools.”

Lee-Ann Tiede

Lee-Ann Tiede asks what this question has to do with math, science, geography, athletics, social studies, art, technology, computer sciences, languages, physics, and the overall business of schools and the education school districts deliver.

“The topic of SOGI 123 has been exhausted and I am curious why there is such a lack of interest from our community in the strategic planning of the board, the over $220 million budget, more than 3,000 staff, approximately 22,000 students, and dozens of facilities that will be managed through the governance of the incoming board,” Tiede said.

“Does anyone want to know if our students will be prepared to compete for future jobs? Is anyone paying attention to our grad rates and the roll out of our new curriculum and wondering how it will impact our graduates’ transition to post-secondary education?

“Does anyone want to hear about the exciting new dual credit programs and partnerships being established with post-secondary institutions? What about current building projects and conversations with MLAs on funding for a new Rutland Middle School?

“When did we lose sight of the bigger picture and forget that we are interviewing candidates for a critical role in a very important job that will impact thousands of students?”

Norah Bowman

Norah Bowman says as a Canadian, she supports Canada’s constitutionally protected freedoms and rights.

“These include the right for people to be free from discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, family status, age, disability, race, ethnicity, association, and religious belief. Our teachers have always cared deeply that every student feels included in schools,” Bowman said.

“As a child, I was raised in a religious, non-Christian home, and I was grateful that I could freely practise my faith and learn in public school. While I didn’t see my my faith reflected in our learning material, I was and remain grateful that we can peaceably learn, together, in a multicultural country.”

Bowman says now that sexual orientation and gender expression are protected grounds in Canada, SOGI 123, first planned by the B.C. Liberals, helps teachers include all children and families in our classrooms.

“Further, my PhD allows me to investigate numerous academic, peer-reviewed studies about SOGI-type resources in schools around the world. Schools that adopt SOGI-type resources have better learning outcomes and result in healthier, happier, more inclusive learning communities. There is no doubt that by helping our teachers teach to our Charter of Rights we are helping provide a positive learning environment for children in our public schools.”

Peter Pagliocchini

Peter Pagliocchini offers these words expressed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Inclusive, good quality education is a foundation for dynamic and equitable societies.”

As an educator, Pagliocchini says he values an inclusive curriculum as it offers an environment where students can feel safe, secure and be heard.

“As a former teacher, I cannot help myself from providing a bit of historical context to this issue which has generated social media debate in the recent months. On Dec. 31, 2016, all 60 school districts and independent schools were required to include specific references to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in their anti-bullying policies. This inclusion was in response to changes to the British Columbia Human Rights Code which now recognizes sexual orientation and gender identity.

“For clarification, there is no SOGI 123 curriculum per se, but rather a collection of age levelled educational resources approved by the minister of education and provided for teachers to use, when appropriate, within British Columbia’s new curriculum. The aim of the program it to help foster inclusiveness for all students and is aligned with anti-bullying and empathy building programs.

“I have full confidence that the program will engage, inform and serve to foster a stronger and safe learning environment.”

Rolli Cacchioni

Roll Cacchioni feels SOGI 123 provides both a positive learning initiative as well as a positive learning environment for Central Okanagan students.

“As a former principal in the district, I had to deal numerous times with students who were bullying or excluding other students from activities, groups, etc. often because of their differences due to sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion. I always dealt with such incidents in a forthright and respectful manner, even to the extent of suspending students and having them appear before the District Discipline Committee.”

Cacchioni says School District 23 must continue to be welcoming to and understanding of all students, as well as continue to work towards making the learning environment safe for all students.

“SOGI 123 provides resources to teachers and administrators to continue to practice this inclusiveness in line with the BC Human Rights Code and board policy. I have read a number of the books and viewed a number of the videos provided by the education ministry on SOGI 123.

“I find them in line with and support the oath I took when I became a teacher and subscribed to the BCTF Code of Ethics, which states as its first tenet: The member speaks and acts toward students with respect and dignity, and deals judiciously with them, always mindful of their individual rights and sensibilities.”

Stuart Kyle

Stuart Kyle believes in a school climate that ensures all students are not victimized or dehumanized, in a public school system that supports diversity of beliefs and values as well as lifestyle choices.

“To the degree to which SOGI 123 helps realize these values it can be of service. In light of parental concerns that SOGI123 actually marginalizing students who hold to belief systems that do not compliment the theory of gender and sexuality that SOGI123 assumes, school boards need to carefully consider those concerns and set policy that ensures that all students regardless of their beliefs and identities are authentically respected, made to feel welcome and given safe places to develop their worldview,” Kyle said.

“As a free-thinking society we will not always agree and that is okay. We need to teach our kids how to disagree respectfully.”

Lake Country

Deb Butler

Deb Butler says she believes education builds understanding.

“It is interesting that this question is framed from a social media lens. Social media is by far the most used tool to access information and has made the most significant impact in the social landscape of this generation,” Butler said.

“This has not come without strife and yet in a very short period of time we have evolved by developing resources to educate and promote safe and informed digital citizenship.”

Butler says SOGI 123 is another resource that was developed to support students, staff and parents to navigate conversations that were already happening in our schools, communities and around the world.

“Every day we challenge our students to be learners, thinkers, innovators, collaborators and contributors, this can not happen without open minds and a safe place to discuss the influences around us.”

Amy Geistlinger

“I have done a great deal of digging into the SOGI 123 resource package, reviewing its recommended policies and many of the lesson plans included,” said Amy Geistlinger.

“I could not keep my response under the 250-word limit, so instead I have written a paper and posted it to my website. Please feel free to view it at www.amygtrustee.ca.

Peachland/Okanagan West (Zone 2)

Moyra Baxter

“When all students, regardless of their race, creed, social background, sexual orientation or gender identity, are welcomed into our schools, then there is an opportunity to freely discuss and learn more about the diversity in the larger world outside school,” said Moyra Baxter.

Baxter says for older students, the Human Rights Code provides a background for discussions.

She quotes civil rights activist and writer Maya Angelou: “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

“There is no place in our schools, or in society, for discrimination,” she said.

West Kelowna

Chantelle Desrosiers

Chantelle Desrosiers says SOGI 123 is a positive learning tool for all students, its goal is to promote inclusion, acceptance, tolerance, and the treatment of all people with dignity and respect.

“Instilling children with feelings of belonging and self worth helps them to build healthy relationships and engage in learning. Education is not only about learning facts, it is also about gaining skills,” Desrosiers said.

“Humanity is comprised of immense diversity, and our students need to be able to go out into the world with the skills necessary to interact positively with individuals that hold a variety of values and personal identities.

She feels there has been a lot of misinformation regarding SOGI 123 during this election, noting it’s a B.C. Ministry to Education mandated resource to help educators reflect the protection of sexual orientation and gender identification under the Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Despite a lot of publicity this election, no school board trustee can ignore a ministry of education mandate nor our Human Rights Act. School trustees are the champions of the public education system, and they must ensure that human rights are being protected in our schools and that discrimination of any kind isn’t tolerated.”

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