A Saint John parent says she feels “used” after she was asked by Education Minister Bill Hogan to provide wording for changes to a school inclusion policy that could force schools to disclose informal changes of pronouns or preferred names in the learning environment to parents.
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Nicole Paquet, the mother of a trans child, said she believes Hogan had already made up his mind on the results of the review of Policy 713. She said he told her that he just wants to “put this to bed.”
“It’s disturbing on so many levels,” she said in an interview.
“I believe they’ve already written what they want to write. I believe they wanted to use me as a parent who happens to be well-spoken and supportive of their child to say, ‘Look what we did, we’ve consulted and here’s our answer.’”
The experience has her calling for a leadership review of Premier Blaine Higgs.
Policy 713 was introduced in 2020 after nearly a decade of development and ensures an inclusive environment for LGBTQ2 youth in the school system. The province launched a review of parts of the policy last month, including sections on participation in sports, the use of washrooms and the ability for children under 16 to informally change their preferred name and pronouns at school without parental consent.
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Paquet said she spoke about her family’s experience with the policy during a government caucus meeting on Tuesday, after emailing Saint John Harbour MLA and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn about her concerns over the review.
She said she advocated to have the policy strengthened to ensure that queer youth were not only protected, but can feel a real sense of belonging in the school community.
“Policy 713 plays a part in meeting safety and security needs. It doesn’t create a sense of belonging and that’s what needs to happen next,” she said.
“Where we need to focus as a province is not rolling back a policy that was scrutinized, did go through a very significant and, I would say, holistic consultation process … We need to focus on implementing the policy and creating a real community of belonging in our schools, which is a microcosm for our province.”
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On Wednesday, Paquet said she received an email from Hogan asking if she was willing to have a call to provide further input. Paquet spoke with Hogan and acting deputy minister of education Ryan Donaghy later that morning for about 40 minutes.
She said she was taken aback when Hogan said that three sections of the policy would be changed. According to Paquet, Hogan said wording around ensuring that students can participate in extracurricular activities based on their gender identity will be loosened and the section dealing with washrooms will be changed to bar trans students from using the washroom that corresponds to their gender identity — instead forcing them to use gender neutral washrooms.
Hundreds gather outside New Brunswick Legislature to protest changes to Policy 713
Finally, Hogan asked if Paquet could suggest a change in wording that would allow parents to be informed if their child decides to go by a preferred name or pronouns.
“He said, ‘We just need a bit of wording, that’s really where we need your help,’” Paquet said.
Paquet said the request was particularly confusing since she had spoken about the necessity of that protection during her presentation to caucus.
When her child began using their preferred name in the school environment, Paquet received a call from the school informing her. That’s a violation of the current policy and outed her child, leading to some tough years, she said.
“I don’t think it’s fair for older white men in politics to be providing blanket statements that all parents have a right to know this immediately,” she said.
“Because in my experience it does have a devastating effect on a child’s well-being.”
N.B. premier says he won’t repeal Policy 713 in its entirety
Paquet said she told Hogan that if the government is truly interested in reviewing and strengthening the policy, they should be clear and transparent about the data used to determine which sections need to be reviewed and what changes are on the table in order to “mitigate the risk” that it would continue to spark fear among parents, children and teachers.
“He said, ‘Nicole, I’m not interested in mitigating this risk. I’m at the caboose of this. I just want to put this thing to bed and I thought you would be able to help,’” she said.
Review to be completed in the next week
Global News requested an interview with Higgs and did not receive a response. Yesterday, the premier sent out a statement saying he wouldn’t be speaking about the policy until the review is finished.
“This issue has been discussed with caucus and it’s being left with … Hogan to continue his work on this file,” he said. “There are three sections of Policy 713 being reviewed. Until that work is done, we will not comment any further.”
After the conversation and her presentation to caucus, Paquet says it appears that Higgs and Hogan have decided that changes must be made and decided what those changes will be, despite saying they are committed to consultation. She says she felt “kind of used” after the conversation with Hogan.
Paquet said the premier’s questions after she gave her presentation to caucus were laser focused on parental rights, but felt that the rest of caucus was receptive to her point of view and seem to understand the necessity of the policy.
“I believe very strongly that this is only Blaine Higgs and Bill Hogan,” she said. “I don’t believe for a second that anybody else around that caucus table believes this policy needs to be reviewed.
“Obviously I don’t have hard data, but I strongly encourage everybody in caucus to really speak up.”
LGBTQIA+ community in N.B. concerned about premier’s comments on Policy 713
Higgs has maintained that parents have a right to know what their children are doing at school, which he says supersedes a child’s right to privacy.
“That’s where the difference between child and adults, that’s why we have children and that’s why we have adults, that’s why we have parents,” Higgs told reporters last week.
“To suggest that it’s OK that parents don’t need to know, just stop and think about that.”
So far, six government MLAs have publicly voiced support for the policy. That includes four cabinet ministers: Infrastructure Minister Jeff Carr, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn, Social Development minister Dorothy Shephard and the Minister Responsible for Housing Jill Green.
Hogan has said that the review will be completed in the next week.