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Card is gone, but the message remains

Lori Penner
Border Land School Division superintendent Krista Curry.

Border Land School Division superintendent Krista Curry.

After months of heated debate, Altona parents finally got their answer regarding the controversial Ally card posted on the walls of two Grade 5 classrooms.

The card, which pledges to support youth of various sexual orientations has been removed.

Border Land School Division superintendent Krista Curry said they had to put careful thought into the issue.

They had to consider 15 schools in seven different communities when they made their decision. "This wasn't just about Altona," she said.

The Ally card will now be replaced in all Kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms across the division with the statement, "As your teacher, I am your ally. I accept and support you in every way."

Parents have demanded the removal of the card since it was displayed by teachers Peter Wohlgemut and Stephanie Fortier last October, after completing a seminar through the Rainbow Resource Centre.

They felt the terms on the card, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer, were not age-appropriate, and would raise questions from students who, they felt, were not mature enough to handle the answers.

They cited provincial guidelines stating that prime responsibility for education about sexual education rests with the parents, not the schools.

"This is not about being homophobic or anti-gay," parent Corey Wall told trustees. "We just want our kids to be kids."

Curry said the Ally card does not fall under Manitoba guidelines.

"Those are curriculum guidelines. They're not about posting training certificates."

The issue is a first for the division, which up until now has not had specific protocol for what teachers can post on their walls.

An Inclusive Education Priority committee, made up of administrators, now has the task of developing a procedures manual regarding human diversity, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

The new procedures will address child safety, teacher training, posting of certificates, and protocols for children who come forward.

"These procedures will be specific to human diversity," Curry said. "We don't want to get into a position where a teacher has to ask permission for every single thing they post on their walls."

What if a student asks a question about a sexual topic? Curry said if they're asked during a sensitive issues teaching session, which the parents has opted for, the teacher can answer them.

"Those classes are set up to be age-appropriate," she said. A child who has opted out of the classes will be told to talk to their parents.

Even though the Ally card is gone, its anti-bullying message will remain.

"Inappropriate comments will always be addressed," Curry said.

"We hope this whole situation didn't make any of our kids feel unsafe or unaccepted," she said.

"Ultimately, we want all our students to feel welcome. The schools in our division are great places to educate kids."