Friday, September 19, 2008

Social Justice course not offered in district

By Trudy Beyak - Abbotsford News

Published: September 17, 2008 6:00 PM The controversial elective Social Justice 12 course, which includes a “gay friendly” curriculum, is not being offered locally unless approved first by the local school board.

The elective course, initiated in part because of the Corren Agreement, teaches that homosexuality is normal and sexual orientation may cause individuals to experience social injustice.

The Abbotsford school district had asked all of the high schools not to offer the elective course until it has been reviewed by the local board, superintendent Des McKay said.

The final draft of the course was approved by the Ministry of Education last month.

The school board has not yet made a decision to offer the course, McKay explained, noting it must go through the curriculum department and education committee before it will be voted on by the board.

It’s unknown how many school boards are actually offering the course, according to the provincial government.

B.C. Education Minister Shirley Bond told the Abbotsford News it is important to note that Social Justice 12 is a completely optional course and is offered to Grade 12 students as an elective.

She said it’s up to the boards and independent school authorities to decide whether they will offer the course, and it is up to students to decide if they are interested in taking it.

The Social Justice course aims to provide Grade 12 students the opportunity to question their own belief systems and to learn a broad perspective about social injustice in Canada and globally, according to the course outline.

People may experience injustice, states the course program, due to factors such as their age, marital status, mental development, political belief, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.

The school district expressed concerns about a draft outline of the course by sending a letter to the Ministry of Education last January.

The provincial government has not replied to that letter, McKay said.

The new course creates a number of challenges, according to local educators.

McKay explained that the elective course requires a teacher to have a significant amount of legal knowledge, expertise and training on such laws as the Human Rights Code, the Employment Standards Act and The Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Abbotsford District review team noted the course is more appropriate for second or third year university students and advised the Ministry of Education of that opinion.

The course also raises moral dilemmas. It requires the teacher to express a great deal of sensitivity to be fair to all groups in the community, including religious groups, McKay said.

The district review team wrote to the ministry stating that the issues included in the course are “very sensitive and encroach on areas of family values, beliefs and practices.”

Indeed, some students might feel threatened rather than respected for their opinions, according to the review team.

In the letter to the ministry, the district stated teachers of the course must ensure that religious or moral beliefs and cultural practices of families not be undermined, adding that “many people are discriminated throughout the world because of their religious beliefs and social justice concerns.”

The schools need to be sensitive to the religious values of Christian, Sikh and Muslim families in Abbotsford, for example, McKay explained.

The Education Minister commented on the situation in Abbotsford.

“I understand that the Abbotsford School District has chosen to offer a Social Justice option as an independent directed studies course this fall, because there were students who wanted to take the course,” she said in a press release.

Meanwhile, W.J. Mouat Secondary had inadvertently included Social Justice 12 as an elective course for its fall schedule and about 90 students had signed up, McKay said.

The district asked the teacher to provide an outline of how she wanted to teach the program in order to try to accommodate the students who had signed up for the course.

McKay said the teacher, to her credit, created an outstanding course called “Global Studies and Active Citizenship.” Some of the main topics include: Genocide Past and Present and Moving Towards Solutions for Conflict: Restorative Justice and Active Citizenship.

There is no reference to sexual orientation.

The new made-in-Abbotsford “Global Studies” course did not receive approval from the government as a “Board Authority Authorized Course,” but was approved as an “Independent Directed Study” course for one year – with the same credits applied to graduation.

The Ministry of Education, however, informed the district that the “Global Studies” course cannot be offered in the future, because it overlaps too much with its own “Social Justice” course.

McKay said it is important to note that the district tried to respond to the needs of the students and this is why the “Global Studies and Active Citizenship” was developed in the first place.

In fact, the benefit of the new course is that it includes the important component of educating students on ways to make a positive difference to address injustices in society, McKay said.

The Abbotsford District Teachers Association (ADTA), meanwhile, is concerned that the Global Studies course does not include any references to “sexual orientation.”

According to the ADTA president, the teacher who was to teach the course felt pressure to modify and revise the program.

“The Social Justice 12 course was designed to encourage inclusion and respect for diversity, including sexual orientation,” said Rick Guenther, ADTA president.