Alex Schmidt says she knows she may face consequences for not following the province’s pronoun law, but it’s a risk she’s willing to take.
The Regina public school teacher says she’d rather ensure gender-diverse children who could be put at risk by the law are safe.
“Part of the process has always been: ‘No. 1, thank you for sharing this with me, and No. 2, how can I support you?”‘ Schmidt said.
“I think that respects the rights of parents. And if children say, ‘I need you to support me and not share this information until I understand how,’ then that is the way that I would support students.”
Schmidt and dozens of other teachers have signed an online petition calling on school divisions not to follow the law. It says the legislation harms gender-diverse students, as it could force them to come out or have teachers misgender them.
“We will continue to use the practice of letting students have autonomy over their identity and letting students determine who does and doesn’t know about their gender disclosure,” the petition says.
The law, passed in October, prevents children under 16 from changing their names or pronouns at school without parental consent.
The rule was part of a provincial policy announced in August. In September, a judge granted an injunction until a court challenge could be heard, saying the protection of gender-diverse youth surpasses the interest of the government.
The Saskatchewan Party government then put the policy into legislation and used the notwithstanding clause to override sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code.
The province has not provided details on what the consequences may be for teachers who don’t follow the pronoun law.
It said it expects all divisions and teachers to follow it.
Taking a stand
As of Thursday, 98 people had signed the petition. Names are entered online but not listed publicly.
A spokesperson for the petition, another teacher at a Regina public school, said organizers have verified 70 of the signatories are teachers and most of them work in Regina or Saskatoon.
The spokesperson fears losing their job and asked not to be named. They said other teachers are waiting to decide what they will do.
Schmidt said her school’s gay-straight alliance club is much smaller than it was before the law passed.
“They’re very passionate about what’s happening, the ones who are there. But I think that there is a disconnect out of fear that they don’t know which teachers at their school are allies.”
Schmidt said she hopes school divisions can take on some of the risk.
“We hope different decisions are made by those larger power systems,” she said.
The petition, which is also being forwarded to schools divisions and trustees, calls on them to take a stand.
“We implore you to recognize that you always have a choice. You always have the option to prioritize students’ human rights,” the petition says.
Changes on the way
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill has said the law has broad support from parents and is meant to ensure they’re included in their children’s lives.
If it’s believed a student would be harmed because of the consent requirement, the law says the school’s principal is to direct the student to a counsellor.
School divisions across Saskatchewan are reviewing their guidelines.
Regina Public Schools is reviewing its gender and sexual diversity guideline, which had allowed students to be addressed by a name or pronoun that corresponds to their gender identity.
A spokesperson for the school division said educators will be notified when changes are made.
“While Regina Public Schools administration works towards making required changes as a result of the amendments, Regina Public Schools’ commitment to safe, inclusive equitable and welcoming environments for all members of the school community will not change,” said Terry Lazarou.
Cockrill has said the guideline of Regina Public Schools, announced in June 2022, was the “impetus” for the province’s pronoun legislation. But the school division has said the minister never asked about it.
Jennifer Lyons, a spokesperson for Saskatoon Public Schools, said it has had conversations with teachers and administrators about updated guidelines for names and pronouns.
“Any issues with implementation will be discussed at the school level,” Lyons said.
Spokespeople for the catholic school divisions in Regina and Saskatoon said work continues on implementing the law.
The Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board, which deals with teacher complaints, declined to comment on what would happen if a teacher doesn’t follow the law.
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association declined to comment, as there is still a court challenge, likely to be heard in December.
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, the union representing educators, also had no comment.
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The law has been criticized by the province’s Human Rights Commission, which said invoking the notwithstanding clause significantly affects the rights of minors.
Heather Kuttai, a former Saskatchewan human rights commissioner, resigned over the legislation, saying it assaults the rights of gender diverse children.
A report from Saskatchewan’s child advocate said it violates rights to gender identity and expression. The report by Lisa Broda also raised concerns that teachers may be violating their professional standards of practice if they follow it.