Minister of Education Nancy Allan spoke to The Uniter about the response to Bill 18. (Supplied)
On September 13, Bill 18, an anti-bullying legislation also known as the Public Schools Amendment Act, was passed in Manitoba Parliament.
The Bill ensures that school boards expand their policies on bullying to target the variety of forms it can take (which includes cyber bullying), and that schools have a respect for human diversity policy.
Nancy Allan, Manitoba’s Minister of Education, says that right now there are only three school divisions that have human diversity policies.
“Every school is going to have to have a human diversity policy that respects all students, and all school divisions are going to work with us to create safer and caring places for all students,” she explains.
“If a group of students come forward and want to establish a gay-straight alliance or any other club that would create a safer school environment they would need to be accommodated - and accommodated is the important word here.”
Apart from the Tories unanimously voting against the Bill, Allan contends that the response has generally been very positive.
“I’ve received a lot of correspondence, people happy about the legislation passing and I understand that Facebook was on fire with happiness so I think there’s a lot of happy people out there with the legislation passing.”
There was previous opposition to the bill seen during a hearing in February at Steinbach Christian high school, where 1,200 people came to register their concerns, expressing that the bill would impose on their religious rights, particularly because of the requirement to comply with GSA clubs.
“ ...these types of clubs really create a safer climate [in] schools. We also know that in many cases it can save lives.
Robert Praznik, director of Catholic Education, has said Catholic schools are willing to work with the government. He says that Bill 18 is a little bit different for public schools than it is for private schools.
According to Praznik, “Bill 18 is an amendment to the public schools act, and as such, by law we do not follow [it].” But, in order to receive 50% of their funding from the government, the Minister of Education “can require independent schools to follow regulations.”
“We have put together policies and procedures that would meet the requirements of the Minister and the requirements of church teachings, and we’re able to blend the two,” says Praznik.
“We definitely would not be opposed to supporting our students in any way that we can.”
It remains to be seen how these private schools interpret that, and whether that will allow for support of LGBT or other students with alternative lifestyles who may feel threatened or bullied.
In order to monitor the success of the Bill, Allan plans to continue to meet with the school divisions.
“We’re going to continue to work with all of our education partners in regards to this, but we heard very clearly during the committee hearings and we know from the research that Egale (formerly Equality For Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) has done is that these types of clubs really create a safer climate [in] schools. We also know that in many cases it can save lives.”