CBC WINDSOR: School policy means students can identify by different gender, name without parent knowledge

Greater Essex County District School Board GECDSB (Photo Google) Greater Essex County District School Board GECDSB (Photo Google)

Jason Viau
CBC News
Oct 13, 2022

During a debate among all public school board trustee candidates that was recorded by Rose City Politics, two parents asked for the candidates’ positions on the policy.

Students of any age at both the elementary and secondary levels can request to change to their gender pronouns and name at school without the knowledge of parents or guardians, according to a board policy in Windsor-Essex.

Now, that policy is coming under scrutiny in light of the upcoming municipal election.

Both the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) introduced polices in June 2021 referencing gender identity and expression for students. Both mention the Ontario Human Rights Code as a reason the policy aims to respect students’ confidentiality as well as protects their well-being and safety.

“A school should never disclose a student’s gender identity, chosen name and/or pronouns to the student’s parent or guardian without the student’s explicit prior consent,” the GECDSB policy reads. “This is true regardless of the age of the student.”

If a parent is involved in their child’s life, knowing these things will come naturally.- Sarah Cipkar, GECDSB trustee

One local mother said she believes this policy ripped her family apart and kept her from being involved with her transgender child’s journey from the beginning. CBC News has chosen not to name the mom to prevent inadvertently outing the youth, who is in high school.

“If you don’t educate the family, but you’re letting the child learn all about [their] new gender, you’re screwing me over [as a parent],” she said. “You’re putting me in a place where I cannot win. I can’t be a part of that. You’re taking that away from me.”

But Sarah Cipkar, public school board trustee and chair of the policy committee, said the new regulation focuses on the best interests of students.

“I think what this does is it allows students to create an alternative safe space within the school environment where they can explore and express themselves differently,” said Cipkar, who is also seeking re-election on Oct. 24.

“I think at the end of the day, if a parent is involved in their child’s life, knowing these things will come naturally and it’s just really about the child being able to dictate those steps as opposed to outing a child unnecessarily to their parents,” she said.

Part of the GECDSB’s policy on gender identity and expression for students. (GECDSB)

At the public school board, it’s been an internal procedure since 2016 to only notify parents of a student’s change in gender identity or expression if the youth gave permission.

A spokesperson couldn’t recall what prompted the creation of this procedure or the formal policy being developed in June, but said it wasn’t at the direction of the Ministry of Education.

It was shortly after the school year finished over the summer when the mother who spoke to CBC News said her child told her that they “feel like a girl inside” and “I don’t like my name.” She said she tried to be comforting and even took her transgender daughter shopping.

She learned through her daughter that she’d been using female pronouns and a different name at school for more than a year.

‘Fractured family’

A week after she found out, she said, her daughter left home and became emancipated. She said the two haven’t talked since that day about three months ago.

“Now we’re a fractured family with one giant chunk missing that I can’t find and it hurts.”

She admits to not knowing very much about transgender people and the issues they face, but said she wanted to learn, and that she wanted to pursue counselling so her family “could go through this and come out at the end of it as a family unit.”

Other parents express concern about policy during debate

During a debate among all public school board trustee candidates last month, two parents asked for the candidates’ positions on the policy.

“As a parent of a teenage daughter … I think cutting out parents from any aspect of kids’ lives is a tragedy,” one speaker said during the debate recorded by Rose City Politics.

“We have a right to our children too,” said another man following the question to the candidates.

Mom ‘grateful’ daughter has a safe space at school

The GECDSB said this gender identity and expression policy protects the dignity, privacy and confidentiality of all students while providing an inclusive school environment.

As a mom with a young daughter, Cipkar said if she confided in school staff about gender identity, she would be “grateful” that safe space existed for them. If and when they were ready to share, Cipkar said, she would “welcome it and I would feel sad.”

The mother who spoke with CBC News said she wants the regulation reversed. She’s sent letters to politicians at different levels of government, including Ontario’s Minister of Education.

CBC News also reached out to Trans Wellness Ontario in Windsor for an interview, but has not received a response.

This article first appeared on CBC WINDSOR