Proposed amendments to The Public Schools Act in Manitoba are causing concern among many supporters of Manitoba's funded independent schools. Bill 18, The Public Schools Amendment Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools) formally defines bullying activities and requires school staff or supervisors to report incidents of bullying, including cyber-bullying to the school principal. The amendments also mandate school boards to put in place "respect for human diversity" policies.
The Bill was introduced by the majority government as part of its Anti-Bullying Action Plan and received First Reading on December 4, 2012. Modeled after Ontario's 2012 amendments to the Education Act, the Bill has been criticized both for the broadness of the definition of bullying and for the provisions related to the diversity policies. Of particular concern to opponents is proposed s. 41(1.8) which requires that human diversity policies must include accommodation for students who wish to lead activities or form organizations to:
(i) gender equity,
(iii) the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people who are disabled by barriers, or
(iv) the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; and
(b) use the name "gay-straight alliance" or any other name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils.
Those opposing the amendments are suggesting the provisions infringe on religious freedom, in that independent schools, many of which are religiously based, should have the right to direct organizations in their own schools and ensure that those organizations do not contravene their faith principles.
Minister of Education Nancy Allan has responded that:
There will be no compromise on that. We feel strongly that all students deserve to be in a safe and caring learning environment.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.