The School Act is the law governing all school authorities in Alberta, including public, separate/Catholic, Francophone, private and charter schools.
Note that home education programs must also, by law, be operated by a school authority.
Below you will find the exact text of School Act sections (coloured in blue) created by the passage of Bill 10 (March 2015) and Bill 24 (Nov 2017), followed by facts resulting from these legislative changes.
Support for student organizations - Section 16.1(1) of the School Act
16.1(1) If one or more students attending a school operated by a board request a staff member employed by the board for support to establish a voluntary student organization, or to lead an activity intended to promote a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging, the principal of the school shall
(a) immediately grant permission for the establishment of the student organization or the holding of the activity at the school, and
(b) subject to subsection (4), within a reasonable time from the date that the principal receives the request designate a staff member to serve as the staff liaison to facilitate the establishment, and the ongoing operation, of the student organization or to assist in organizing the activity.
Every principal of every school in Alberta must immediately say “yes” whenever any single student – of any age – asks to start a student club such as a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) and/or insists upon a related school-wide activity.
If the principal does not "immediately grant permission" to a K-12 child who requests a club or associated activity described in section 16.1 of the School Act, then the principal is breaking the law.
Without any stated age limitations, children from kindergarten upwards, have full and unprecedented legal authority over adults in the school when it comes to these clubs and activities.
Activities classified as “welcoming, caring, respectful and safe” by the Alberta Teachers’ Association include school-wide drag shows or presentations teaching students and staff inclusive pronouns like “ze”, “zir” and “perself”.
The staff liaison is not to lead the club or activity, but instead is legally tasked to facilitate (aid) the club or assist (help) in organizing the activity.
In fact, because the child has sole legal authority over the direction of the club/activity, they can contact the Education Minister and/or other external organizations to ask for whatever support or outside facilitator they want, regardless of whether this support is appropriate for the child, or consistent with the needs and culture of the school community.
Support for student organizations - Section 16.1 (2) of the School Act
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an organization or activity includes an organization or activity that promotes equality and non-discrimination with respect to, without limitation, race, religious belief, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, family status or sexual orientation, including but not limited to organizations such as gay-straight alliances, diversity clubs, anti-racism clubs and anti-bullying clubs.
The School Act clearly specifies these clubs and activities exist for multiple factors “including but not limited to” physical or mental disability, religious belief, family status, etc.
While this legislation is popularly represented in the media as pertaining only to sexual and gender minority clubs, it actually opens the door to all sorts of clubs in our K-12 schools that have legal jurisdiction to exist outside the authority of school staff and oversight of parents.
As stated in a March 2015 PCE column published in the Edmonton Journal:
“the Alberta government has opened a veritable Pandora’s box of club requests around issues for which children may feel they are being discriminated - race, religious belief, colour, family status — you name it. The conflicts between any number of clubs within the same school, or contradictions between clubs and the central culture of the schools themselves, will result in unforeseen negative consequences across the system… the legislation does not preclude other clubs that meet vague and subjective criteria.”
Support for student organizations - continued Section 16.1 (3 & 3.1) of the School Act
(3) The students may select a respectful and inclusive name for the organization or activity, including the name “gay-straight alliance” or “queer-straight alliance”, after consulting with the principal.
(3.1) For greater certainty, the principal shall not prohibit or discourage students from choosing a name that includes “gay-straight alliance” or “queer-straight alliance”.
Students have sole legal authority to decide the name for the organization or activity. While students are to consult with the principal, they are not obligated to follow any direction the principal or anyone else provides.
Note clause 3.1 was added in November 2017 “for greater certainty”, precisely because the Alberta government will not allow schools to respectfully seek balance among the diverse needs of their students and to be responsive to the unique culture of each school community.
Support for student organizations - continued Section 16.1(4)
(4) The principal shall immediately inform the board and the Minister if no staff member is available to serve as a staff liaison referred to in subsection (1), and if so informed, the Minister shall appoint a responsible adult to work with the requesting students in organizing the activity or to facilitate the establishment, and the ongoing operation, of the student organization at the school.
“Responsible adult” is not even specified as needing to be a certified teacher or staff member, meaning the Education Minister could appoint someone from a variety of external community organizations.
Recent advertisements by the altView Foundation and the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services show that an entire industry has arisen to provide adults from outside of schools who may have access to your children without your awareness.
Who are these facilitators? What is their background/training/expertise?
Parents can’t even ask if they don’t know that these facilitators are accessing their children.
Support for student organizations - continued Section 16.1(6)
Section 16.1 (6) The principal is responsible for ensuring that notification, if any, respecting a voluntary student organization or an activity referred to in subsection (1) is limited to the fact of the establishment of the organization or the holding of the activity.
This clause dictates that the maximum amount of information a principal may legally provide to parents is that such a club or activity exists in a school.
When it comes to any specific questions - such as whether your own child is participating in these clubs or activities, the resources being offered or the adults accessing your child - the principal is, by law, forbidden to give such information.
Thus, this law enforces secrecy, keeping parents in the dark and creating a void of care around K-12 children.
Alarmingly, into this void, an entire industry of adult facilitators and external organizations are taking up shop in our schools and replacing parents who have been sidelined by these changes to law.
Notice to parent - Section 50.1 (1) and (4)
50.1(1) A board shall provide notice to a parent of a student where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.
(4) For greater certainty, this section does not apply with respect to the establishment or operation of a voluntary student organization referred to in section 16.1 or the organizing or holding of an activity referred to in section 16.1.
For many years section 50.1 of the School Act has ensured that schools must tell parents when subject-matter “primarily and explicitly” about religion and sexuality is provided to K-12 students, specifying that parents can request that their children be excluded from such instruction, without penalty.
However, “[f]or greater certainty” the passage of Bill 24 added a clause at the end of this section of the School Act, granting a free pass to school clubs to provide sexual information to K-12 children without requiring any parental awareness or consent.
Many concerned parents and citizens have questioned why this exemption is necessary if these groups are only social, peer-to-peer support groups, which is how they are often described by many in the media and government.
This concern is heightened by the fact that the “experts” standing behind the Minister of Education, celebrating the introduction of Bill 24 at the Alberta Legislature in November 2017, were from the very organization which provided community support links to K-12 children containing sexually graphic material.
The content of these links included videos of naked adults participating in sexual acts, ads for sex toys, highly descriptive oral sex techniques and advice to “pay for porn” and “visit a group masturbation night at your local sex club.”
Board responsibility - Section 45.1(3) and (4)
(4) A policy established under subsection (2) must contain a distinct portion that addresses the board’s responsibilities under section 16.1, and the distinct portion of the policy
(a) must not contain provisions that conflict with or are inconsistent with this section or section 16.1, and in particular must not contain provisions that would:
(ii) require a principal to obtain the approval of the superintendent or board or to follow other administrative processes before carrying out functions under section 16.1
This section of the School Act erodes the authority of elected school board trustees, superintendents, parent councils and the guidance of faith leaders or faith statements, in relation to the actions of the principal of a school.
As a result, principals are forced to ignore all the standard input they would otherwise receive from proper school governance and local oversight while being compelled to abide only by the demands of the Ministry of Education.
Board responsibility - Section 45.1(8)
(8) If a board does not establish a policy or a code of conduct under subsection (2), or in the opinion of the Minister a policy or a code of conduct established under subsection (2) does not meet the requirements under subsections (3), (4), (5) or (6), as applicable, the Minister may, by order, do one or both of the following:
(a) establish a policy or code of conduct for, or add to or replace a part of a policy or code of conduct of, a board;
(b) impose any additional terms or conditions the Minister considers appropriate.
This section of law gives tremendous power to whoever occupies the position of Education Minister in Alberta, by granting him or her authority to change or replace any "Safe and Caring" policies of any school board that, in the Minister's opinion, are not in line with the sections of law discussed above.
The Minister can also “impose any additional terms or conditions” that the Minister wants.
This section of law effectively puts all power over safe and caring school policies in the province of Alberta into the hands of one person, stripping the autonomy of local school boards to be genuinely responsive to the needs of their local students, parents and staff.
Enforcing policy changes that are explicitly hostile to the foundational raison d’etre of unique school settings will strip these settings of the very framework upon which they exist, thereby destroying genuine school choice.
In other words, freedom of choice is meaningless if all choices are forced to be the same.
n the fall of 2018, the Education Minister in Alberta exercised this new authority of the law. Learn more from the Edmonton Journal article "61 Alberta private schools running afoul of gay-straight alliance law" and a September 27, 2018 PCE blog article "'Aggressive attack' by Alberta Education threatens to destroy faith-based schools."
Use the links below to access the other two sections of this three-part series, return to the introduction page, or download a printable version:
Main introduction page: Know how new laws impact Alberta schools & how to respond
To download a printable version of the entire PCE Toolkit, CLICK HERE