MEDICINE HAT, AB — A post on the Concerned Parents of School District 76 blog has raised some concerns with the school board.
The post, dated June 20th,is titled ‘Policy 622 Endorses Child Abuse’.
“Policy 622, the Guidelines to Best Practices, and Alberta Education under the direction of Minister David Eggen endorse, support, and attempt to enforce the abuse of children through negligent practice, policy, and procedure.” read the post written by a J.Williamson.
School board chair Rick Massini said he believes the posting borders on defamation.
“It’s a borderline statement for sure,” said Massini. “We’re in the business of child protection and everything we do is with the best interest of students in mind.”
CHAT TV News made multiple attempts throughout the day to contact Jeremy Williamson, a member and spokesperson for the CPOSD76 group for comment.
It included six phone calls to various members to get contact information, text messages, messages sent directly to the CPOSD76 website, messages sent by Facebook and Twitter to Williamson, an email sent directly to Williamson and our request for comment being extended to him through at least one third party. As of our deadline, we did not receive any kind of reply or response.
Massini said, as a former educator with nearly 40 years experience dealing with students, having a group suggest he and the board endorse child abuse is hard to hear.
“I wear a pin that I was given some years ago, it says children first, and I look down at that pin whenever there is any kind of a conversation that is going to lead to a decision and that’s my first motivation,” he said.
CHAT News reached out to a local lawyer to explain exactly what constitutes defamation.
“Defamation is a statement made that tends to lower a reputation of a person or an organization,” explained lawyer Michael Dolan. “Defamation can can be made in various forms or various media, it can be written, it can be spoken, it can be electronic.”
In order for a statement to be legally actionable, it needs to name the person or organization and be made to the public.
“Is there actually a statement made that does tend to lower the reputation of a person? If that’s the case, is the person or organization named expressly or sometimes implicitly in the statement? And then finally, is the statement made to somebody other than the person or the organization?” explained Dolan.
At this point, Massini says the board is not considering taking any legal action on the matters but the comments have been forwarded to the Ministry of Education and Education Minister David Eggen.
“We are assessing all options presently, working in collaboration with the school board,” said the Ministry in a statement to CHAT News on whether it plans to take any action in regards to the posting by the CPOSD76 group.
"School boards must follow the law and work to ensure all schools are welcome, caring and safe,” said Eggen in a statement. “Alberta Education is aware of the concerns specific to Medicine Hat School District and is working to assist the board with addressing the concerns of parents. Our government has been clear that all students will be supported in school, including LGBTQ students.”
“In the vast majority of situations encountered in a school the teachers and administrators work with parents to address the needs of the child,” Eggen continued. “There are some instances, however, where the student may not feel safe disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity at home.”
“Our government continues to work with boards to develop policies that will support all students. Medicine Hat School District has been a leader in this work and the board deserves a great deal of credit for the work they have done to protect and improve education in their community."
The parent's group wants the school board to hold another public meeting on developing the policies and wants to be notified if and when children join a gay straight alliance in school. The group has said in the past the lack of notification violates their parental rights.
Massini says the board is following the laws laid out by the province and will continue to do so as that is their role as elected board members.
“Of course parents have rights and we do what we can to protect those rights but we also recognize that students and children have rights too,” explained Massini.
The School Board and the CPOSD76 have been locked in a struggle over the so-called LGBTQ policies for over a year now.
Massini said he's had several meetings with member of the Concerned Parents group and they are at a stand still on some issues, but hopes concerns on both sides can be mitigated in a civil and appropriate way.