Following a recent spate of protests, the Burnaby school district has changed its draft anti-homophobia policy in response to public input but is mostly sticking to the original content.
"We came up with changes that would make sense and make it more understanding, hopefully, for those who had some (concerns)," said board chair Larry Hayes at a June 8 media briefing.
The district wanted to assure the public that the policy would not include sexual content in elementary classes. However, things like discriminatory slurs - based on race, socio-economic status or homophobia, such as the derogatory term "that's so gay" - would be taught to be inappropriate, said assistant superintendent Kevin Kaardal.
"This policy is not about changing curriculum," Hayes said, adding it's about acknowledging other types of relationships. "Is it good to hide the fact that there are differences in society? That is something we want to try and avoid."
The district is not trying to ram things down people's throat, he added.
"It's just making sure that our students know that there are other types of people out there, and those people have to be dealt with with respect and tolerance," Hayes said.
Policy 5.45 aims to protect students and staff from homophobic harassment and bullying, but the draft drew controversy and protests, both for and against.
Some oppositional parents had questioned the need for a specific policy on homophobia when the district already has an anti-discrimination policy. Trustee Ron Burton said he didn't originally see the need for a separate policy, either.
"What I learned through the committee is that it was necessary. What we had was not working," he said.
After reviewing public input, the policy committee members made some changes and are sending the final version back to the board for approval.
Some of the changes include editing the language. There was some confusion around curriculum changes mentioned in the first draft, which left some parents questioning what their kids would be learning in class.
Superintendent Claudio Morelli said that the policy "does not include discussion about sex or sexual practices" at the elementary school level.
"All teaching will continue to be age-appropriate and respectful to the diverse backgrounds of our students," he added.
The definition of heterosexism has also been changed, another concern raised by Parents' Voice, the ad hoc group opposing the policy. The district would not release a copy of the revision, as the school trustees have to see it first.
"I think the parents will respond well. There's quite a group of parents that sent in specific requests, and we've addressed those specific requests," Hayes said.
The draft policy had been public for some time, but about 100 opposing parents, many from Burnaby's Willingdon Church, heard about it and showed up to protest at a May 10 school board meeting. Subsequent meetings and protests followed, including students who showed up in favour of the policy.
Recently, the Catholic Civil Rights League has also come out against the policy, arguing that it is not "morally neutral" and is intended to force the moral beliefs of its authors while punishing those who do not agree.
The policy was always in draft form only, still subject to public review, and the board extended the input date to June 3 to get more feedback.
Belinda Bai of Parents' Voice said the group wanted to see the revised draft before commenting and that parents should have another chance to look at the draft before trustees vote.
The board will likely hold the final vote on June 14.
For more on this story, see Jennifer Moreau's blog, Community Conversations, at www.burnabynow.com.