A rural Manitoba teachers' union says it’s time for the Seine River School Division (SRSD) to clearly lay out in writing the ways that they can and will support transgendered and gender-diverse students, because he said if those students don’t feel supported, it could have negative and long-lasting implications on their lives, and on their futures.
“We want to support our students, and we want to make sure they feel supported,” Seine River Teachers’ Association (SRTA), president Jonathan Waite said, while speaking to the Winnipeg Sun on Friday.
“We don’t ever want to go down the wrong path even once, because we know that can have serious implications on the path that students can go down.”
On May 24, Waite, the head of an organization that represents more than 350 educators and staff in SRSD, and a small delegation, appeared before the SRSD board of trustees, requesting they take steps to create regulations and policies specific to supporting transgendered and gender-diverse students.
Waite said the division, which has schools spread over a large area of rural southeastern Manitoba, in communities such as Lorette, St Adophe and La Salle, has “comprehensive” diversity and safety policies in place, but he feels those policies could be “enhanced” if there were more written policy specific to supporting transgendered youth.
“We want to walk hand in hand with those students and support them, so it is always good to have something written down, so an educator can say, ‘I can point to that to understand what I have to do, and what my role is.’”
Waite said the policy would cover issues such as self-identification, washroom access, parental consent, names and pronouns, dress codes, and field trips.
“We wanted to bring the trustees up to speed on all the great work that has happened in the division, and also on some of the challenges as well,” Waite said.
Waite said the SRSD board passed a motion during the meeting referring the matter to their governance committee, and do plan to continue having discussions about the issue, and about the need for policies to be put in place.
He called the SRSD board “very receptive” to the presentation, and said he does believe progress will be made on the issue moving forward.
“From what I could see and what the board was saying, I do believe they see this as an excellent idea, and want to work with us, and with their governance committee on this,” Waite said.
“This board has been really good about making sure they know how important it is that we are a diverse and accepting school division.”
A study released in 2018, by the National Library of Medicine, stated that mental health disparities faced by transgender youth in Canada are “considerable.”
“Transgender youth had a higher risk of reporting psychological distress, self-harm, major depressive episode, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts,” the report states.
The report stated that the findings “underscore the need for policies and laws protecting transgender people from discrimination, and further development of transgender-specific interventions to promote positive mental health, and reduce mental health problems among transgender youth.”
Waite said it is now crucial that transgender and gender-diverse youth feel supported in SRSD, or the negative impacts on some students could be long-lasting and traumatic.
“If we don’ support the students as far as their identity and their future, then we are potentially causing harm and trauma,” he said. “So if this policy can help even one student from being harmed, than this will be a great policy.”
— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun