Though unanimous on the benefits of gay-straight alliance clubs, or GSAs, school board trustee hopefuls at Tuesday night’s forum were divided on whether parents should be informed when their children are involved in such clubs.

The forum was held at the Albert Park and Radisson Heights Community Hall and hosted by 12 Community Safety Initiative, a crime prevention group.

Public candidates from Wards 8 and 9, and Wards 5 and 10, as well as two Catholic candidates running in Wards 9, 10 and Chestermere were each given a one-minute window to respond to a variety of audience-submitted questions.

Richard Hehr, a public school candidate running in Wards 8 and 9, said the decision to disclose information should belong to the students, not the school.

“My position’s very simple, parents should be told that their child joined a gay-straight alliance when the child decides that they will tell them,” Hehr said.

“The research is clear — we have numerous children facing difficulties who end up committing suicide because they haven’t had the opportunity to live their life as they would wish.”Candidates from Wards 5, 8, 9 and 10 gather at the Albert Park and Radisson Heights Community Center to answer questions from the public. (Left to right: Bianca Smetacek, Pamela King, Raman Gill, Jameela Ghann, Rekha Dhawan, Marilyn Dennis, Mario Deshaies, Cheryl Low, Merle Terlesky, Richard Hehr and Sabrina Bartlett). Photo by Nathan Kunz

Hehr was among seven of 11 candidates opposing schools’ ability to tell parents about their students’ involvement in GSAs. Other opponents included Wards 8 and 9 public trustee candidate, Sabrina Bartlett, and Ward 5 and 10 candidates, Marilyn Dennis, Rekha Dhawan, Bianca Smetacek and incumbent trustee Pamela King.

The debate over parents “right to know” has heated up recently, with Alberta education minister David Eggen saying last week he is moving forward on legislation that would outlaw the outing of students who join gay-straight alliances.

Cheryl Low, the Catholic School incumbent trustee for Wards 9, 10 and Chestermere, said that while schools in her jurisdiction don’t give individual information, they do alert parents when such clubs are formed.

“The research is clear — we have numerous children facing difficulties who end up committing suicide because they haven’t had the opportunity to live their life as they would wish.” – Richard Hehr says.

“We have a process where we notify all parents of any club that is created in our school,” Low said. “We don’t tell them who is in it […] That’s not the intent.”

Other candidates, however, suggested parents have the right to know when their kids are involved.

Merle Terlesky who is running in Wards 8 and 9 against Hehr, said that parents should be told when a child joins a gay-straight alliance, comparing it to joining a sports club.

“If a child wants to join a rugby team but his parents don’t want him on that team because he might break his arm, are the teachers required to not inform the parents when he breaks his arm a week later?” Terlesky asked.

Jameela Ghann, running in Wards 5 and 10, echoed Terlesky’s remarks, saying parents will ultimately make the right decision for their children and that schools shouldn’t keep them in the dark about their children’s activities.Merle Terlesky (standing) is one of three candidates running for school board trustee in Wards 8 and 9. He tells a Tuesday night forum that parents should have the right to know if their child is a member of a gay-straight alliance club. Photo by Nathan Kunz

“I think that there is a fine line between what’s good for the public and what’s good for the individual, and I am always on the side of the family,” Ghann said.

Mario Deshaies from Catholic Wards 9, 10 and Chestermere and Raman Gill from Wards 5 and 10 also agreed that parents should be informed of their children’s participation in such clubs.

Cher Gaze, a resident of the area, attended the forum and said the discussion surrounding GSAs was eye-opening.

“It wasn’t something that I had in mind — I hadn’t thought about it,” said Gaze. “We have to make sure that our kids are open and accepting everybody for who they are. If the schools aren’t going to accept that, and some of the parents aren’t, we have an issue.”

Editor: Jolene Rudisuela | 

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