Education Minister Adriana Lagrange visits students in Lacombe

Education Minister Adriana Lagrange visits Grade 6 students at Lacombe Upper Elementary School in Lacombe, Alta. on Friday, June 14. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

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Just a few weeks into sitting as Alberta’s new education minister Adriana Lagrange, paid a visit to students in Lacombe.

After visiting Lacombe Junior High, Lagrange, along with representatives from Lacombe city council, Wolf Creek Public School division and school board staff stopped by Lacombe Upper Elementary School, where Grade 6 students had opportunity to ask her questions about the curriculum, to various aspects of her job.

“It’s always great. I just love interacting with the students. It reminds me of why I got involved as a trustee, why I was super involved as a parent and further provincially and nationally,” Lagrange said.

“It’s the kids. It’s to ensure they have the best possible education system going, and when I look at kids it inspires me to do even better and to ensure we can do what we can to ensure education continues to thrive and improve.”

Students, who learned about the three levels of government as part the curriculum this year, were challenged to pick out the minister, as well as local MLA Ron Orr and other dignitaries, before presenting brief questions.

Among the topics brought up by students were possible changes to the math curriculum, which Lagrange said they were reviewing, what she qualifications she brings to her role, as well as the challenges – and the best parts – of being a minister.

One of the more interesting questions asked what the recently-elected United Conservative Party (UCP) government is doing to consult students, parents, teachers and other stakeholders to improve education.

Lagrange said she wants to expand and build on the ministerial student advisory panel’s voice, encouraging all of Alberta’s 700,000 students to get engaged, whether it’s through letter writing, or during school visits.

“They are so enthusiastic about the input they’ve been able to have and I was really impressed by what I was hearing that I want to expand across the province and get more students engaged,” she said. “I really look at expanding that student voice and I feel it’s important – it’s their education as much as it is anyone else’s and we really need to hear from them.”

She briefly mentioned a filibuster by the Alberta NDP over Bill 8 last week, while standing next to a Grade 6 student with a rainbow flag on her cheek, and various LGBTQ2 flags decorating the side of her desk.

Bill 8 eliminates a time limit for school principals to grant a request for students to start a gay-straight alliance as well as eliminate a clause which says principals can only tell parents if the school has a GSA, not if their children are a part of them or any other information about the club in what the NDP have started calling “Bill Hate.”

Lagrange, made effort to shake the student’s hand and thank her for being there.

“I believe in protecting all students and that’s what I’m really focused on,” she said. “Every student in our school system should feel  they’re in a welcoming, safe and caring environment. That is my priority….I value every student for who they are and to allow them to be authentically who they are.”

Lagrange also released an official statement Friday afternoon on Bill 8, as follows:

“With the passionate debate taking place in the legislature about Bill 8, I feel it’s important to clarify a few important misconceptions about student protections under the Education Act.

“To be absolutely clear: our government opposes mandatory parental notification of student involvement in inclusion groups, and Alberta will have among the most comprehensive statutory protections for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Canada.

“Once requested by students, creating a GSA is not optional. In Alberta, like Manitoba and Ontario, the Education Act specifically guarantees in legislation that students are entitled to create inclusion groups, including GSAs and QSAs. Compared to legislation in Ontario and Manitoba, the Education Act provides greater direction regarding the appointment of a staff liaison for the student organization.

“With amendments introduced through Bill 8, we are also clarifying that board obligations regarding welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments, policies and publicly available student codes of conduct apply to all publicly funded schools – including accredited private schools.

“Reference has also been made to Nova Scotia and British Columbia, which have no overarching provincial statutes protecting GSAs. Unlike the Education Act, British Columbia’s ministry directive and Nova Scotia’s provincial policy are not enshrined in provincial legislation.

“The privacy of students is also protected under Alberta’s strict privacy laws. Schools cannot disclose a student’s membership in any inclusion group, as there are student privacy considerations that trump other legislation, including the Education Act and the previous government’s Bill 24.

“All school authorities are required to follow privacy legislation: publicly funded schools must follow the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and private schools must adhere to the Personal Information Protection Act. School authorities may only disclose personal information if authorized under these laws.

“We also recognize every child is unique and every circumstance is different. Legislation needs to balance protecting children and their privacy with the rights of parents, so children are getting the supports they need. Though it would be rare, disclosure of GSA/QSA membership would only be justified on the basis that the disclosure would avert or minimize a risk of harm.

“Unlike the previous government, we trust professional educators to navigate these difficult situations to do what is in the best interest of kids. No responsible teacher or principal would ever reveal a child’s sexual orientation. This approach provides a clear balance between student privacy and parental rights – a balance and clarity that was not found in Bill 24.

“Our government believes that the safety of students in school is paramount. I am looking forward to engaging students, parents, teachers and administrators as we work together to build a modern education system which supports all students.”

Lagrange will also be at Lacombe Composite High School this evening as part of a celebration for teacher Stephen Schultz, who recently received a Prime Minister’s Award of Excellence.