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Abbotsford Christian parent group loses vote to repeal gender identity policy from school manual

Majority of 1,800 voters in Abbotsford Christian School Society took part in two-day resolution vote
Abbotsford Christian School. (Google Street View)

A petition to repeal some wording from an Abbotsford Christian school’s policy regarding care of LGBTQ students has failed.

The petition had been circulating around the Abbotsford Christian School (ACS) community, asking the board to reconsider an internal policy that drives the school’s “care process” for its LGBTQ students.

A group of parents recently brought forward a resolution that the board repeal an internal school policy entitled Gender Identity Expression and Dysphoria Policy (GIED). The News was alerted to the resolution by a concerned community member, and confirmed the information with Julius Siebenga, the school’s executive director.

Siebenga said their policy, as it stands, tries to find the balance between two sets of rights, and that not everyone in the community is happy with it.

“Our school community is going through a challenging time in its history as it navigates the appropriate balance between human rights and religious rights,” he said, adding that their policy “supports staff in fulfilling our mandate to care for all students and clearly states that bullying or harassment of any kind, and specifically in regard to LGBTQ students, is not tolerated.”

There are nearly 1,800 voters in the ACS Society, between parents, staff, and a small number of honorary members. About 70 per cent of them took part in the two-day voting process May 16 and 17, Siebenga said. In the end, the resolution was voted down and the policy will stay in place.

Siebenga issued a statement to The News on May 18 explaining the recent controversy.

He said that the board is confident the current policy “honours our duty to care well for LGBTQ students,” and that, after receiving multiple legal opinions, they believe it upholds all students’ human rights.

Their policies involve addressing a child’s chosen pronouns or gender identity in a group that includes the concerned family’s pastor, administration, teacher, parents and child in discussions.

Typically, a family chooses ACS from kindergarten and remain there until graduation. This means that, as children explore their sexuality and gender, they are doing so in a Christian environment in school.

Without including numbers, Siebenga said the prevalence of children questioning their gender identity at ACS is similar to the wider community.

But what differs is the high concentration of families with strong Christian morals, which is what led to the resolution being voted on.

“We recognize the vulnerable place we are in as we navigate these difficult conversations,” Siebenga said. “This is arduous, difficult work and our community is struggling to unanimously support where the board has landed with our policy. Like most schools, we have students who wrestle with their identity, sexuality, and/or other social and emotional challenges.”

He believes they’ve struck a fine balance, and is aware that other schools in Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley might be taking a different stance.

Siebenga said the school community is hopeful that the decision to deny the resolution will “provide clarity on a way forward as we continue our work towards our mission of engaging minds, nurturing hearts, and shaping God’s world.”

All schools, including independent Christian schools, are required to protect all students and to have policies and procedures that prevent bullying and harassment and promptly address it when it occurs, according to the Ministry of Education and Child Care.

A ministry representative confirmed that they are in lockstep with the Federation of Independent School Associations in British Columbia (FISABC) and other education partners to issue a statement supporting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) inclusive education in the K-12 education system.

“Independent school policies and procedures must align with the Harassment and Bullying Prevention Inspector’s Order and the BC Human Rights Code,” the representative said. “In 2016, the B.C. Human Rights Code was amended to ensure that gender identity and expression are protected under the code.”

The ministry verifies schools have harassment and bullying prevention policies in place, Safe School coordinators on staff with current training, and that schools promote use of the “ERASE – Report It” tool for reporting worrisome or concerning situations in schools.

The ministry also verifies that independent schools are intentionally and systematically incorporating inclusivity, identity and anti-bullying into their education programs.

Meanwhile, the school’s policy clearly outlines the ACS will care for its LGBTQ students.

“We believe that being same-gender attracted is not a sin; however, sexual activity outside of a heterosexual monogamous marriage is sinful,” the policy states.

“We also believe that having questions about/not identify with our gender identity is not a sin; however, we do believe that God created two genders — male or female — which is determined biologically at conception, with the rare exception of an inter-sex birth.”

It says that these issues are something that some will struggle with “like any other part of our brokenness …”

By chance, the last day of the two-day vote process landed on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

Siebenga said he hopes that the issue being settled can allow the school to get back to working on the many positives going on with the students at ACS.

READ MORE: What really is the SOGI 123 resource in British Columbia schools?


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Jessica Peters

About the Author: Jessica Peters

I began my career in 1999, covering communities across the Fraser Valley ever since.
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