The provincial teachers union is taking their employer to court this week in the hopes of enforcing a ministerial order meant to protect students against discrimination.
The case comes after the suicide of Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley last month, an openly gay Grade 10 student who was subjected to years of homophobic bullying.
The B.C. Teachers’ Federation took the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association, which represents the Ministry of Education and local school districts, to the B.C. Court of Appeal on Tuesday in the hopes of having a 2007 order that requires schools to include anti-discrimination language in their codes of conduct enforced.
“Homophobia, racism, and other forms of harassment and discrimination persist in schools throughout British Columbia,” said Susan Lambert, president of the BCTF.
The order specifies that school boards must ensure their codes of conduct contain one or more statements that address the prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the B.C. Human Rights Code. However, the BCTF conducted a Freedom of Information that revealed the majority of school boards in the province are not complying with the anti-discrimination requirement.
“Teachers and students have been willing to take a stand on these issues, and so have trustees in some school districts,” said Lambert. “Now it’s time for the ministry to enforce its well-intentioned, but so far rather toothless, order.”
The BCTF took BCPSEA to arbitration in 2010 to have the order enforced, however, the arbitrator ruled it was outside of his jurisdiction to do so.
The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District allows each school to determine its own code of conduct, but provides them each with a template from the provincial government.
While the 82-page template provided by the provincial government does ask schools to include in their codes of conduct, “one or more statements that address the prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the B.C. Human Rights Code as these relate to the school environment,” there isn’t any specific language recommended, or examples given.
Deputy superintendent Laurie Meston said the school district has followed the template given by the province.
“[The province] created the template, and that’s what we have been using,” she said.
The B.C. Human Rights Codes lays out 13 specific areas of protection from discrimination: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, age, and unrelated criminal or summary convictions.
While each high school’s code of conduct features language relating to bullying, only Garibaldi secondary school includes language that specifically addresses homophobia, while Thomas Haney secondary is the only school to mention discrimination based on ethnicity.
Meston said the district’s codes of conduct are currently under review, as are the district’s policies regarding homophobia.
“We always need to review what we’re doing on an ongoing basis,” she said. “Technology has changed, so bullying has changed.”
The school district itself has an anti-bullying policy that dates back to 2002, but it too doesn’t include any language referring to homophobia specifically.