Education minister hasn’t read DECs’ changes to Policy 713 on gender identity

The minister of education has not yet read gender-identity policies passed by education councils that undo changes he made, and it’s still not clear which version of the policy will be in effect when the school year starts next month.

In the spring, New Brunswick’s Minister of Education Bill Hogan introduced changes to Policy 713 on sexual orientation and gender identity. Hogan said the policy now bans teachers and staff from using a child under 16’s chosen name and pronoun unless a parent consents. 

A few weeks later, two anglophone and two francophone district education councils passed motions to effectively mandate that staff must respect all children’s chosen names and pronouns regardless of age and parental consent status.

Council chairs said the old policy is meant to protect children whose only safe space is school, and school psychologists say denying a child’s request for a certain name or pronoun causes more harm than using it.

The union of school psychologists and social workers is grieving the minister’s changes, alleging they contradict the collective agreement by forcing them to do harm.

WATCH | The new version of Policy 713 is now in effect. Will it even be used?: 

CBC Explains: Why some schools may not even use Higgs’s Policy 713

Most of New Brunswick’s district education councils are creating their own version of Policy 713, undoing the controversial changes made by the Blaine Higgs government.

Hogan said the goal of his changes is to protect “parents’ rights” to be consulted if their child requests an informal name or pronoun change.

The policy has always made it mandatory to get parental consent for official name and pronoun changes for kids under 16. 

Hogan said he’s received “hundreds” of complaints about the policy, though very few have been made public, none of them mentioning the policy specifically.

Who has the power?

The original 2020 version of Policy 713 and the updated version allow district education councils to “develop policies and procedures that are consistent with, or more comprehensive than, this provincial policy.”

Anglophone East, Anglophone South, Francophone South and Francophone Northeast are the districts that reverted to the old wording on pronouns and names in late June.

Hogan did not provide interviews on this topic at the time. A spokesperson said the department will review the policies created by the councils.

This week, Hogan said he has not yet read the policies, but has read about them in news reports and believes the provincial policy supercedes the council ones.

“District [councils] have the authority to improve or strengthen a provincial policy, but they can’t do anything that is contrary to the provincial policy,” he said.

When asked whether he thinks the council policies are contrary, Hogan said he hasn’t read them, and he’s waiting for the results of a review by the child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock, expected next week.

Anglophone West and Francophone Northwest councils say they will listen to input from parents before making a decision. Anglophone West has previously said it supports the original policy and any changes made by the province should only strengthen it. 

Hogan also said he approves of councils that are still gathering input and more information.

He said the other councils did not send him the policies, and he did not ask for them.

Bespectacled man wearing a button-uo shirt opened at the neck and a suit jacket.
Kelly Lamrock, New Brunswick’s child, youth and seniors’ advocate, is expected to release the results of his review of the provincial changes to Policy 713. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Anglophone East council chair Harry Doyle said he believes the council policy is consistent with 713 because the provincial policy’s entire purpose is to protect LGBTQ children, not parents.

“I respect the parents too,” he said. “But nevertheless, if a kid says that ‘if I go home and tell them about this, I’m maybe not welcomed at home anymore’ … Our first responsibility is to the person sitting in front of us, the kids.”

WATCH | Why this member of the district education council put forward the motion: 

Anglophone East council adopts own policy for LGBTQ students

The district education council voted unanimously to ensure students in Anglophone East are consulted before staff talk to parents about names or pronouns.

Doyle, who has been a guidance counsellor, teacher and school principal during his 35-year career, said the council unanimously passed the motion to have no age limit on respecting pronouns because that part of the policy was done with consultations with experts and school staff on the ground.

“And if [Hogan] says ‘well, it’s the parents,’ I guess that’s where we disagree, really.”

Doyle said when council passed policies that add to provincial policies, the council policies are the ones that must be followed.

Anglophone North council chair Joseph Petersen said his council is meeting later this month. While he can’t say the council will also vote in a different policy, he said all councillors agree that the original policy should not have been changed.

Both Petersen and Doyle said they were “disappointed” that Hogan hasn’t yet read their policies. Hogan said the councils did not send him their new policies, but he also did not ask for them. The Education Act does not explicitly require minister approval for all council policies. 

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