Alex Schmidt says she knows she may face consequences for not following the province’s pronoun law, but it’s a risk she’s willing to take.
The Regina public school teacher says she would prefer to make sure the gender diverse children the law could put at risk are safe.
“Part of the process has always been, ‘No. 1, thank you for sharing this with me, and No. 2, how can I support you?'” Schmidt said.
“I think that respects parents’ rights. And if kids say, ‘I need you to support me and not share this information until I understand how,’ then that’s the way I would support students.”
Schmidt and dozens of other teachers signed an online petition asking school divisions not to follow the law. He says the legislation hurts gender diverse students because it could force them to come out or cause teachers to confuse them.
“We will continue to use the practice of allowing students autonomy over their identity and allowing them to determine who knows and who does not know about their gender disclosure,” the petition says.
The law, passed in October, prevents children under 16 from changing their names or pronouns at school without their parents’ consent.
The rule was part of a provincial policy announced in August. In September, a judge granted an injunction until a court challenge could be heard, saying that protecting gender-diverse youth outweighs the government’s interests.
The Saskatchewan Party government then turned the policy into legislation and used the notwithstanding clause to override sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code.
The province has not provided details on what the consequences may be for teachers who do not follow the pronoun law.
He said he hopes all divisions and faculty will follow him.
Take a position
As of Thursday, 98 people had signed the petition. Names are entered online but are not listed publicly.
A spokesperson for the petition, another Regina public school teacher, said organizers have verified that 70 of the signers are teachers and most of them work in Regina or Saskatoon.
The spokesman fears losing his job and asked not to be identified. They said other teachers are waiting to decide what they will do.
Schmidt said his school’s gay-straight alliance club is much smaller than before the law was passed.
“They’re very passionate about what’s going on, those who are there. But I think there’s a disconnect out of fear that they won’t know which teachers at their school are allies.”
Schmidt said he hopes school divisions can shoulder some of the risk.
“We expect those larger power systems to make different decisions,” he said.
The petition, which is also being sent to school divisions and administrators, asks them to take a stand.
“We implore you to recognize that you always have a choice. You always have the choice to prioritize the human rights of students,” the petition reads.
Changes on the way
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill has said the law has broad support from parents and aims to ensure they are included in their children’s lives.
If it is believed that a student would be harmed because of the consent requirement, the law says the school principal must direct the student to a counselor.
Saskatchewan school divisions are reviewing their guidelines.
Regina Public Schools is reviewing its gender and sexual diversity policy, which allowed students to be addressed by a name or pronoun that corresponds to their gender identity.
A school division spokesperson said educators will be notified when changes are made.
“While the Regina Public Schools administration works to make the necessary changes as a result of the amendments, Regina Public Schools’ commitment to safe, inclusive, equitable and welcoming environments for all members of the school community will not change” said Terry Lazarou.
Cockrill has said the Regina Public Schools’ guidance, announced in June 2022, was the “impetus” for the province’s pronoun legislation. But the school division has said the minister never asked about it.
Jennifer Lyons, spokesperson for Saskatoon Public Schools, said she has had conversations with teachers and administrators about updated guidelines for names and pronouns.
“Any issues with implementation will be discussed at the school level,” Lyons said.
Spokespeople for Catholic school divisions in Regina and Saskatoon said work continues to implement the law.
The Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board, which handles teacher complaints, declined to comment on what would happen if a teacher fails to comply with the law.
The Saskatchewan School Boards Association declined to comment as there is still a court challenge, which will likely be heard in December.
The Saskatchewan Federation of Teachers, the union representing educators, also had no comment.
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The law has been criticized by the province’s Human Rights Commission, which said invoking the notwithstanding clause significantly affects the rights of minors.
Heather Kuttai, Saskatchewan’s former human rights commissioner, resigned over the legislation, saying it attacks the rights of gender diverse children.
A report from the Saskatchewan Ombudsman for Children said it violates the rights to gender identity and expression. Lisa Broda’s report also raised concerns that teachers could be violating their professional standards of practice if they follow them.