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'Parents must be fully involved' in student's decision to change pronouns, Ontario education minister says

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Ontario’s education minister said he believes “parents must be fully involved” if their child chooses to use a different pronoun at school.

The comments were made at a news conference on Monday morning, where Stephen Lecce was outlining the changes students and parents can expect at Ontario schools come September.

They also come as Saskatchewan adopts a new gender and pronoun policy, joining New Brunswick in legislating parental consent for students under the age of 16 who want to change their given names and/or pronouns at school.

“I think we understand though that parents must be fully involved and fully aware of what's happening in the life of their children,” Lecce said.

“I mean, often there are health implications, and I think we have to respect the rights of parents and recognize that these can be life-changing decisions, and I think parents want to be involved so that they can support their kids. And I think that's a really important principle that we must uphold.”

Lecce prefaced this by saying that schools should be safe for all children. He noted that teachers and school boards take home environments into account “where there are exceptional circumstances” or “situations of potential harm to the child.”

“Educators are well versed on exactly what to do and who to turn to if they believe that child may be harmed for whatever reason, or whatever circumstance,” he said.

“But as I say, as an overarching value system, I really do believe that parents need to be fully aware, fully engaged. And school boards need to be transparent with parents. I mean, they are the legal guardians. They love their kids. They want to be aware of what's happening in the life of their children in their schools.”

The minister would not say if this were something his government would legislate, saying only that this was the “province’s position on the matter.”

A new poll by Angus Reid released Monday, which surveyed 3,016 Canadian adults online, suggests that about 43 per cent of Canadians believe parents should both be informed and give consent if a child wants to change how they are identified within a school setting.

In Ontario, 43 per cent of survey respondents said parents must both be informed and give consent of an identity change, while 34 per cent said parents should simply be informed.

About 16 per cent of respondents said it should solely be up to the child.

The Toronto District School Board currently has a policy that protects the privacy of transgender and gender non-conforming students, recognizing that some children may not be open about their identity at home.

It notes that a school “should never disclose a student’s gender non-conformity or transgender status to the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s)/caregiver(s) without the student’s explicit prior consent.”

“This is true regardless of the age of the student.”

The policy says that school staff should consult the student as to how to identify them when communicating with their guardian.

School boards in Saskatchewan have asked the province to pause its gender and pronoun policy in order to allow for a “complete review and report” prior to implementation, arguing it could have safety risks and could violate charter rights.

As of last week, the Saskatchewan government has not backtracked on its position.

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