Gay-friendly classroom sign controversial

Teacher ordered to alter plaque

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A Grade 5 teacher in Altona is under fire for displaying a plaque declaring his classroom a safe haven for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered students.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/01/2012 (3850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Grade 5 teacher in Altona is under fire for displaying a plaque declaring his classroom a safe haven for gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered students.

Border Land School Division asked him to remove the wording from the plaque and leave only the portion that says he is a rainbow ally.

Parent Rachel Friesen, whose son is in the class at West Park Middle School, said some other parents have “freaked out” since the teacher displayed the plaque after attending an in-service workshop run by Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre.

Friesen said the situation blew up after a student asked the teacher what bisexual means, and he explained it means someone who likes both boys and girls.

One parent who objected “sent letters to all of us parents in the classroom. That whipped the parents into a frenzy,” Friesen said.

“They don’t think he should be allowed to talk to their kids about any of that stuff,” Friesen said.

She said the parents want Border Land school trustees to order at their Feb. 8 meeting that the plaques be removed from the Grade 5 classroom, as well as from the classroom of a second teacher who attended the workshop at the Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg.

The parent reportedly leading the protest against the teacher did not respond to an interview request.

Friesen said the teachers had placed the plaques in such a way that only a rainbow is visible, but one parent took a closer look.

“One parent saw the card and the wording on it and freaked out,” she said.

“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the wording,” Friesen said. As for the teacher’s explaining what bisexual means, “He was very age-appropriate.”

“It blows my mind that people are so backward about it.”

Border Land superintendent Krista Curry said, so far, the division has only received a request to remove the plaques entirely, though “I wouldn’t be surprised” if a delegation comes to the board Feb. 8.

“We consulted as a senior administration team. There’s been multiple discussions,” Curry said. “We asked the teachers to post the Rainbow Ally at the top and remove the wording.

“There was considerable concern about age-appropriateness and community context,” Curry said.

Instead, the plaques now indicate the classroom is safe for all students, she said.

Curry said some parents are concerned about whose job it is to discuss sensitive topics with their children, especially when parents have the right to opt their children out of family life classes.

Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson said if an employer tells a teacher to do something, “The general advice we give to our members is, you probably should. If they’ve been directed to take it down, that’s in the authority of the employer, for now.”

Olson said there could certainly be further discussions with the division on human rights grounds.

“We have a moral obligation to ensure we are setting up a safe environment for all students,” and not only if that meets with someone’s religious or cultural valies, Olson said. “Community values are taken into account, but they don’t get to be the final word.”

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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