On Oct. 23, the Alberta government brought forward a new Education Act that is being met with approval by homeschooling and parental rights organizations. “The more people got exposed to it and the more dialogue we had with it, the more we realized it wasn’t quite the right fit,” said Education Minister Jeff Johnson about the older version that was met with widespread criticism in February. “I think we found some really good middle ground here that is a compromise for folks.” In a government press release, Johnson said that the Act is the “first legislation in Canada to formally recognize the role of parents as a child’s first and most important teacher.”
“The act is substantially different from the act introduced this spring,” Garnett Genuis, executive director of Parents for Choice in Education, said in a news release. “The press release around the bill … strikes the right notes.”
A previous version of the Education Act proposed in February by the same Progressive Conservative government of Alison Redford, mandated in section 16 that all school materials reflect the “diversity” of Albertan society and correspond with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act. Albertan human rights regulations have been used to target traditional Christian views. Parental rights and pro-family groups became even more concerned when a government spokeswoman said that homeschooling families could not teach that homosexuality is a sin, though Thomas Lukaszuk, the education minister at the time, later backtracked from this statement. The bill died when a provincial election was called in the Spring; the Conservatives won with a reduced majority.
The new Education Act reverted to the old wording of section 16, stating that school courses and materials “must reflect the diverse nature and heritage of society in Alberta, promote understanding and respect for others and honour and respect the common values and beliefs of Albertans” with no reference to the Charter or Human Rights Act.
In addition, section 32 now states that the “parent has the prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be provided to the parent’s child, and as a partner in education, has the responsibility to (a) act as the primary guide and decision-maker with respect to the child’s education.”
Not everyone is satisfied with the new Education Act, though. “The Alberta citizen in 2012 is on board with inclusivity, on board with sexual orientation equality, and the like,” Liberal MLA Kent Hehr told the Edmonton Sun. He said the government was “on the wrong side of history” because the amended Act “makes no mention of discrimination based on sexuality, gender and disabilities.”
“Redford’s government is pandering to fringe groups instead of ensuring Alberta’s students are taught about basic human rights,” said NDP MLA David Eggen in a news release.
If the bill passes, it will likely be put into place by September 2015.