When it comes to topics of human sexuality and religion, it is important parents understand their legal right for notification, as well as the significant gaps and limitations of these legal rights.
Alberta’s Education Act, section 58.1(1) states the following:
Notice to parent
58.1(1) A board shall provide notice to a parent of a student where courses, programs of study or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.
The law goes on to explain that once a parent is notified about this instruction then the parent can send a signed written request for their child to be excluded from the instruction. This request must be honoured by school staff without any academic penalty to the student.
While PCE appreciates that this notification and opt-out law provides some level of awareness for parents, we also urge parents to understand three major gaps and limitations to this current legislation:
1. The need for parental notification only applies to information that is deemed to be “primarily and explicitly” about “human sexuality”.
First, it is extremely important to understand that there isn’t agreement when it comes to the meaning of “human sexuality”. This means that while some parents may feel that a presentation teaching children about a variety of sexual orientations and gender pronouns should be classified as “human sexuality”, many teachers are likely to classify this content as learning about diversity or human rights and may be keen to integrate these topics into regular teaching, without parents ever being made aware.
Second, the phrase “primarily and explicitly” is an important qualifier because it means that parental notification is not legally required when gender and sexuality content is integrated into other subject areas.
This means a teacher may read a story to your Grade 1 child as part of a Language Arts writing lesson which includes topics of sexual orientation and/or gender identity and there is no legal requirement that you, as a parent, would be notified. The same applies for most of the lessons being put forward to teachers through SOGI 123 and the Alberta Teachers’ Association PRISM Toolkit mentioned above.
2. The law requires notification, not consent.
While the school has a legal responsibility to notify you, there is no requirement that they receive your consent.
Thus, the school has fulfilled its legal responsibility if they send a paper note home or post an alert on the website. However, if a parent misses the paper note (backpacks are messy places!) or happens to miss the school’s notification via email or the website then the parent will be left in the dark.
A parent’s consent is always presumed, unless otherwise indicated. That means the onus is on parents to ensure they are vigilant, actively asking for and looking for the information, or they may otherwise easily miss knowing about it. It is up to parents to take the lead and proactively communicate their expectations and concerns to the school.
One of PCE’s suggestions going forward, especially in light of the increasing experiences of student distress and parental concern, would be to strengthen this section of law and require an “opt-in” consent whenever subject-matter deals “primarily and explicitly” with human sexuality and religion.
3. The law covers content that is presented during instructional time, but what about non-instructional time?
The law specifically restricts parent notification to “courses, programs of study or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises”.
However, topics of sexuality and gender may also be presented to K-12 students outside of the typical classroom instructional time, being provided as part of a student’s “non-instructional” time during the school day - whether at recess, lunch or before or after school.
This is of particular concern because in 2015 -- under the Progressive Conservative government -- new laws came into force that created special provisions for “voluntary student organizations”.
These provisions legally require all principals in all Alberta schools to permit voluntary student organizations and their associated activities when they are requested by any student. According to the law, clubs and activities can include those that are focused on sexuality and gender.
Thus, under this law, school staff and parents lose the capacity to guide the resources provided to K-12 kids as part of these clubs and activities. If a student invites adults and organizations from outside the school to present information about gender and sexuality to their group - or even to the entire school through a school-wide activity - then staff are legally powerless to do anything except permit the activity. To learn more about this law, please visit our “Laws & policies that strip parental rights” page.
Another challenge to parents is that most public and Catholic school board policies in Alberta, as well as several private school policies, specifically state that school staff may purposefully withhold information from parents regarding the clubs and activities in which their children are participating. To learn more about these school board policies that restrict information to parents, please visit our “Laws & policies that strip parental rights” page.
These laws and school board policies thus create a massive gap in a parent’s capacity to know what sexuality and gender content is being provided to their children during clubs and activities at “non-instructional” times of the school day - whether that be books and resources presented to their children, activities, or guest speakers accessing their children without their knowledge.
Thus there are several gaps in the notification and opt-out legislation which still allow the provision of sexualty and gender content to K-12 children without any legal requirement to notify parents.
Return to the Health and Sexual Education page.