In the vast majority of cases, parents have their children’s best interests at heart
Jan 14, 2023 – National Post
A seismic change has been taking place in Canadian schools in recent years, and it gives many parents cause for concern. On the one hand, it’s clear that public schools are taking bullying and discrimination far more seriously than they have in the past, creating safer and more inclusive environments, which is all to the good. Yet in their drive to protect children from harm and open their eyes to the diversity of Canadian society, our education systems often go too far, and frequently leaves parents in the dark about what is taking place in the classroom.
If there’s one message most parents give their kids, it’s that they can tell mom and dad anything. And for good reason: if a child is being bullied or abused outside the home, parents need to ensure the child is comfortable enough to tell them, so they can take action. Yet as National Post reporter Tom Blackwell detailed in these pages last week, many children are receiving the opposite message at school.
“Kids were being taught to lie to parents,” said a Calgary mother whose child’s Grade 6 class was told by a teacher that the gender identify of a classmate must be kept from that student’s parents. In another instance, a Toronto mother complained that her child’s school changed her kid’s name and pronouns without ever consulting her.
It would be easy to write off such incidents as anecdotal or isolated, but the schools were merely following official government guidance. The Alberta government’s guidelines state that protecting “a student’s personal information and privacy” is of paramount importance, including, “having a student’s explicit permission before disclosing information related to the student’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression to peers, parents, guardians or other adults in their lives.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) also advises schools to implement a “simple, one-stop procedure” for students to change their names and gender on official transcripts and not to “talk to anyone about (a student’s) identity, including parents/caregivers, to whom they have not already disclosed their gender identity.” Instead, staff are told to, “Discuss with them the possibility of rejection, harassment, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse.”
Withholding such information would make sense if there was good reason to believe that a parent might turn violent upon hearing the news that his or her child came out as transgender, but to make withholding information the default policy is a fundamental abrogation of parental rights. To then advise that children be warned about the possibility of being beaten or sexually abused after coming out as trans will only make it more likely that they will continue to hide such information from the people who love them most.
We understand the impulse to avoid situations in which a child may be put at risk because of information shared with a teacher or guidance counsellor. But the fact remains that in the vast majority of cases, parents have their children’s best interests at heart and are best placed to make decisions about their health and safety. Even parents who don’t initially react well generally come to “realize the child is the person they’ve always loved,” and end up having a positive effect on the child’s mental health and well-being, according to Dr. Margaret Lawson, head of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario’s gender identity clinic.
Instead, there have been cases in which schools have placed children in potentially risky situations. As one Ontario father told the Post, his then-transitioning daughter (who has since gone back to identifying as a girl) was assigned to a hotel room with three boys for an out-of-town field trip, which made her feel uncomfortable. Luckily, the father found out and was able to intervene.
This is part of a broader trend within our school systems to remove any discretion parents have over their children’s education and what happens to them outside of the home. Many provinces, for example, allow parents to opt-out of sexual education, but schools, on the advise of PHAC, are increasingly organizing “Gender Splendour” weeks, guest speakers and other extracurricular activities that bypass the sex-ed curriculum entirely.
The worry, among many parents and experts alike, is that schools are not just promoting diversity and inclusivity, but instead causing confusion about sexual identity and encouraging choices that youth may not be fully capable of making and might not be in their long-term interests.
Data from Trans Youth CAN project shows that the number of young people being referred for puberty blockers or hormones to nine clinics across the country increased from virtually none in 2004, to over 1,000 in 2016. Some gender-identity clinics have begun accepting referrals from teachers and guidance counsellors, thus allowing school staff, who lack any medical or psychological training, to bypass legal guardians and family physicians and put kids on a path that could have a profound effect on their futures.
More and more, governments and school boards are disregarding the rights — indeed, the moral obligations — of parents to make decisions about how their children are raised, educated and cared for. We’re glad that schools are working to put an end to bullying and discrimination, but they have a duty to ensure that their good intentions do not lead to negative unintended consequences. The best way to do this is to ensure that parents are actively involved in matters affecting their children’s education and well-being.