Langley board of education stands behind SOGI curriculum

Each trustee offered impassioned speech about ensuring schools are safe and inclusive for all

The SOGI curriculum is here to stay and has the support of the Langley Board of Education and the School District Leadership Team, the audience learned at the board of education meeting Tuesday.

Each trustee spoke out in support of the SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) curriculum and said they will stand up for all students, including LGBTQ youth, to ensure a safe and welcoming education environment.

Also, on Tuesday, the B.C. Minister of Education Rob Fleming sent a letter to the editor thanking Langley parents for supporting schools that are inclusive and safe. He also thanked the school district for moving forward on SOGI education.

The School District had to provide overflow seating and live stream the meeting to viewers upstairs because supporters of the SOGI 123 curriculum filled the boardroom.

Prior to the board meeting, around 150 parents, grandparents, youth, community members and teachers, along with CUPE school staff rallied with rainbow flags and signs outside the district office.

READ MORE: Rally a rainbow of support for LGBTQ youth

Rally organizer and founder of Langley Parents for Inclusivity, Stacey Wakelin, spoke as a delegate at the meeting as did two Grade 7 Langley Fine Arts students who presented a large card signed by dozens of students and teachers at their school who support SOGI curriculum.

While the group opposed to SOGI had originally planned to have a delegate speak at the meeting, the request to appear was withdrawn prior to the meeting. Kari Simpson, co-founder of a group called Culture Guard, has been vocal against SOGI curriculum, equating the teaching of it to ‘child abuse and indoctrination.’

Simpson had told the Times earlier that she planned to attend and likely speak at the board meeting, but she wasn’t present.

One dad of a child in kindergarten, who is a youth pastor, asked if the SOGI curriculum is still under discussion or is being rolled out in this year’s curriculum.

“The district is not at all considering withdrawing the curriculum. SOGI is one part of a bigger inclusive education that includes discussions around being inclusive in regards to race and disabilities, etc.,” board chair Rob McFarlane said.

But there is room to educate parents about what lessons plans will look like surrounding SOGI education, said McFarlane.

Rengee Bailey, district principal of safe schools, said the information delivered to students is age appropriate.

“Teachers would not teach kindergartens sex education,” responded Bailey to concerns from a grandparent and parent about what that age group would learn.

But Bailey did say that kindergarten students often have lots of questions around family dynamics and diversity.

“We are currently looking at what is the best way to reach all parents, whether it be through our website or should we hold a Q & A meeting about SOGI curriculum. We want to clear up the misinformation that has been spread out there. We are all about education. That’s why we are here,” she said.

Michael Morgan, district principal for the Aboriginal program in Langley, was at the meeting to present information about Orange Shirt Day, which honours residential school survivors and those who didn’t make it home. But he made his own statement about those who rallied in support of inclusiveness.

READ MORE: Dorothy Peacock Grade 5 student design’s this year’s Orange Shirt

“With Orange Shirt Day we say, ‘every child matters.’ We take them as they are. It’s not our job to fix them. We are here to find their gifts and nurture those gifts. Let me be very clear in my words. We need inclusion in our curriculum,” Morgan said.

At the end of the Tuesday Board of Education meeting, each trustee addressed the audience, explaining why they stand behind the SOGI 123 curriculum. Each trustee also thanked everyone who rallied.

“For people to come out and support what this district is doing, it makes me so proud of this community when people stand up for others,” said McFarlane.

Trustee Alison McVeigh said of the 30 years she has lived in Langley, “Tonight, I have never been more proud to be from Langley where its residents accept all its people, where a school district cares about all its students. We are public education and we welcome diversity. A strong message was sent tonight. Langley is a welcoming, safe and diverse community.”

Trustee Shelly Coburn said the opposing group who have said that teaching SOGI amounts to child abuse is a ‘very serious charge.’

“I can respect a difference of opinion but not when it is willful ignorance and misrepresentation of the fact,” said Coburn.

Trustee Megan Dykeman, whose daughter Mac spoke as a delegate in favour of the SOGI curriculum, said the spreading of factual inaccuracies and misinformation “manipulates and misleads the public.

“And the statement that homosexuality can be contagious, and that being transgender is a mental illness is dangerous.”

She provided some history of the work that has gone into supporting LGBTQ students in Langley and across the province, dating back to 2011.

“They can’t say we haven’t been discussing this; it’s just that they ignore what they don’t like,” she said.

Trustee Rosemary Wallace said she is a religious person.

“It’s hard on me when people use religion to hate on people. My Creator, our Creator says we are one, we need to honour our children and embrace them all,” said Wallace.

Former trustee Cecilia Reekie asked trustees to release a formal statement to the community and to ask the B.C. Trustees Association to do the same, supporting SOGI curriculum.

“We have to say not in our province, not in our country,” Reekie said in response to the ‘hurtful’ comments being made against the LGBTQ community who oppose SOGI.

“As an Indengenous woman, my people went through this,” said Reekie.

It wasn’t so long ago that Canadian society found it acceptable to take Aboriginal children from their families and place them in residential schools far from home, she pointed out.

“But this is 2017, Langley, B.C. We are having the most absurd conversation. People are bullying and speaking out in hate and judgment. My heart is heavy for our children,” she said. “What worries me is Langley is the begininng.”

Reekie said she will respect a difference of opinion but will never respect the hatered being spewed over social media against LGBTQ people.

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