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‘A protected right’: Sask. teacher, non-binary child speak out over pronoun and name changes

A Saskatchewan family — comprised of a teacher and her 10-year-old non-binary child — express their opposition to Saskatchewan's new education policies requiring parental consent for their children to change their name in pronouns inside schools.

Sask. teacher says she communicates with parents unless it violates rights of students

A woman holds her child with a yellow door behind them

Kiké Dueck loves gym class, especially long-distance running.

The 10-year-old, who is non-binary, says everyone at school "is really good about gender," but knows not all parents are accepting.

"There's a few people in my school that are in the LGBTQ2S+ community but are afraid to tell their parents," said Dueck, sitting beside their mom, Dennie Fornwald, in their Regina home.

"I don't know anybody in my class that has wanted to change their name, except for one. But for pronouns, there is one person."

The mother added, "There was one kid that said, 'Hey, I'm not ready to use these pronouns at home yet."'

That's one reason why Fornwald, an early-childhood educator at a public school in Regina, is concerned about Saskatchewan's new changes requiring parental consent when children under 16 years old want to change their names or pronouns.

She said because kids will need their parents to sign a consent form, it would likely result in some having to go back into the closet.

Fornwald also worries about the changes affecting her own kids, saying it could embolden people to express homophobic or transphobic views. She has another child who is gender diverse.

"I've been teaching a long time," she said, with tears welling in her eyes.

"I know a lot of kids that this is going to affect negatively, kids whose families I know and I like. I think of all the kids out there who don't have a safe person at home — hopefully yet. I think some of them could get there."

Earlier this week, Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced the changes he said stemmed from concerns he heard from some parents and teachers. He said he also wanted to standardize policies across all school divisions.

LISTEN | CBC Radio host Stefani Langenegger talks with Education Minister Dustin Duncan after the announcement:

The Morning Edition – Sask17:02Sask. education minister talks new policy requiring schools to get parental permission for pronoun changes

The province's education minister is making some changes ahead of the new school year. Dustin Duncan will require schools to get parental consent if a child under 16 wants to be called a different name — or have different pronouns used. Host Stefani Langenegger talks with education minister Dustin Duncan.

Duncan also announced parents could pull their children from all or some sexual education courses and that third parties can no longer teach those courses.

"If we are requiring school divisions to get parental consent to a half-day field trip to the science centre, I think we need to be treating this issue with the same amount of seriousness," Duncan said.

Fornwald balked at that comparison.

"This is different, this is identity," she said. "This is something essential, a protected right."

Parents and teachers rallied in Saskatoon on Sunday in the latest wave of opposition to the name and sexual education policies.

Meanwhile, a recent survey released by the Angus Reid Institute found 50 per cent of Saskatchewan people answered they wanted to be informed and provide consent for students to change their name or pronouns. The poll was conducted before Saskatchewan's policies were announced.

WATCH | New Sask. education policies prove divisive:

Sask. unveils divisive pronoun policy for schools

6 days ago

Duration 1:49

The Saskatchewan government has announced a policy requiring parental consent if a child under 16 wants to change their name or pronouns in school, a decision some say will put children at risk and others say puts parents' rights first.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has said it's considering legal challenges against the province for the move, saying it puts some LGBTQ children at risk if they're not accepted at home.

"I just found that it was quite surprising," Dueck said. "[Kids] need a safe place to discover who they are."

Duncan said teachers would be required to address students by their birth name if their parents did not provide consent, something human rights groups say is also harmful.

Fornwald said her child was initially a little scared but then felt relieved after opening up about being non-binary, or neither male nor female.

As an educator, she said she won't out any kids.

"I'll work from an assumption that families want what's best for their kids. I always start the year getting to know families with that assumption in mind," she said.

"For those times that I'm not sure if we're on the same page when it comes to gender diversity, I know that the curriculum supports me to support all of my students."

In a news conference last week, Duncan was asked if school divisions would be penalized if parents did not support or give consent to a preferred name or pronouns change, but the school continued to support the student.

"We're not talking about penalizing teachers, but the direction will be that the teachers will not essentially acquiesce to the wishes of the child unless the parents consent if they're under the age of 16," he told reporters.

When asked by CBC Radio host Stefani Langenegger the following day what the repercussions would be for schools and teachers if parents complain the new policies aren't followed, Duncan said, "I can't say that today."

"The act gives me the authority to issue these directives — directives of this nature — and it would be my expectation that school divisions would abide by those and work with us to implement them," he told Langenegger.

Jaimie Smith-Windsor, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, said the changes have put school divisions in a "very difficult position," and has asked the province to pause the policy until the child advocate's independent review is completed.

Smith-Windsor said the changes cast doubt on teachers' relationships with parents, despite parents being involved.

"It's definitely not the message we would send to the public, to parents, and especially to students and staff when they return to school in a couple of weeks' time."

Fornwald said parents have always been welcome in the classroom and to read the curriculum.

"I trust that they care for and want the best thing for their kids, and I want them to know that I want what's best for my students," she said.

"I view kids as individuals, as full humans. And I think that the only time that I would have a problem letting parents in is if I think it's violating the privacy and the rights of my students. Otherwise, we're a team."

The mother looked at her child and said she hopes the adults can figure it out.

"You're also kids, and kids need to be kids."

With files from CBC News

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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