SD20 trustees are currently developing SOGI policy for all Kootenay Columbia schools.

SD20 develops sexual, gender identity policy

Kootenay-Columbia’s SOGI policy was on the board table Monday night, and will soon be shared with local stakeholders.

There is zero tolerance for homophobia and transphobia in Kootenay Columbia classrooms.

Valuing diversity and respecting differences in schools has trustees developing a “SOGI” policy but what does “SOGI” mean?

Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) was being addressed at a local level well before the province sent word a few months ago that all B.C. schools must have an inclusion policy in place.

”Tolerance needs to be built from a very young age, the world is a changing place,” says Teri Ferworn, SD20 (School District 20) board chair.“Don’t you think we should start back in the early years, opening up people’s minds to the fact that we are a diverse population, not just in our gender identity,but in many other ways.”

Kootenay-Columbia’s policy draft was on the board table during the Monday night meeting, and will soon be shared with local stakeholders.

“We haven’t passed it yet it’s gone out for feedback with all our stakeholders depending what you all say, we will revise it or just pass it, as-is,” Ferworn emphasized. “But it’s the way things are going to be in our district. And people need to get on board with that, because we are just not tolerating bullying of any sort.”

While a respective case hasn’t presented locally, the SD20 policy ensures future situations will not be treated with a blanket strategy. When a sexual orientation or gender-related issue does arise, it will be addressed on an individual basis.

“We will be taking our cues from the individual about what needs to be done to make them feel included,” Ferworn explained. “Because not everybody wants to advertise it.”

SOGI is an inclusive term that encompasses all individuals regardless of where they identify on the sexual orientation or gender identity spectrums, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, queer, questioning, intersex, cisgender or asexual.

The SD20 policy affirms that all students, staff and families have the right to have their SOGI confidentiality protected and respected; personally identify and determine their SOGI; and have their unique identities, families, cultures, and communities included, represented, valued and respected within all aspects of the school environment.

Raising awareness through professional development, preventing language or behaviour that denigrates, inclusive learning resources and providing counselling and student support are suggested regulations in Kootenay-Columbia schools.

Fernworn sat on the policy committee for the past year, so the group was ready to draft its SOGI when B.C. passed an amended human Rights Code, Bill 27, in July.

New legislation makes the B.C. Human Rights Code more explicit in the protection of transgender persons, and was passed to include gender identity or expression among the protected grounds covered by the code.

“I think we’re at the forefront with this policy,” she told the Trail Times. “Basically that’s been a big chunk of our work, so when the legislation came down it was like, great, with the work we had already done. A lot of that was BCTF (B.C. Teachers’ Federation) and a committee that delved into it the previous year, trying to get what other districts were doing.”

The issue has come up for discussion over the last few years, Ferworn clarified.

“We were legislated by the Ministry of Education to write these up to come in alignment with the Human Rights Code that was passed over the summer,” she added. “We need to be in line, yes and in our school district, we are trying to address equality for everyone.”