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Sask. education minister supports Catholic schools' stance on 'Rainbow Tent'

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Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education says it should be a parent’s right to decide if their child participates in programming related to gender and sexual diversity.

On Thursday, Minister Dustin Duncan responded to questions about a leaked email from the Catholic school superintendent directing teachers not to take their students to an LGBTQ2S+ “Rainbow Tent” at the Nutrien Children’s Festival.

“Certainly I do support the division’s decision on this, and certainly they have the autonomy to make that decision locally as all school divisions do,” said Duncan.

Duncan said it should be up to parents to decide how and when to expose their children to “sensitive” and “evolving” conversations. He would not say what in particular was sensitive about the event.

“I think we do best in the education system when we involve the role of parents to a greater and not a lesser degree,” he said.

The division faced harsh criticism when the email leaked on May 25, from in and outside the queer community. One former Catholic school student said she was disappointed in superintendent Tom Hickey, her former homeroom teacher.

“As a same-sex parent I feel gutted that this email has been sent out,” she wrote in an email to CTV News.

On Monday morning, the Catholic school division’s office was hit with an apparent act of vandalism in response to the directive. The front windows were splattered with paint and pasted with butterfly, unicorn and flower stickers.

Duncan framed the directive as an invitation to involve parents, more than an exclusion of Catholic students from a children’s event.

“I don't think anybody's saying, 'don’t take your children,' I think it's just a matter of as a part of a school trip, that it wasn't, wasn't something that was being advised.”

Duncan said his ministry works with all of the school divisions in fostering “a welcoming and safe environment for every single student.”

If parents want to take their children to the Rainbow Tent, Duncan says they’re free to do that on their own time.

“I don’t think anybody’s saying not to do that,” he said. “This is a conversation that needs to involve the parents first and foremost. And certainly, that is a view that I agree with, as Minister of Education and as a parent.”

While Duncan described the email in terms of parental involvement, the message was not intended for parents, but for elementary school principals to direct their teachers.

The message actually directs principals to advise any parents acting as chaperone at the Children's Festival of the school division's direction to avoid the Rainbow Tent.

Samantha Becotte, president of the union that represents all teachers in the province, framed the directive as a ban in an interview with CTV News.

We're disappointed to see the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School division banning participation in their attendance at the Rainbow Tent and we at the Federation have many policies and practices in place in order to support inclusion and equity in our teaching profession, but also in schools," she said.

According to Becotte, many teachers at the division are expressing support for the union position.

“We’ve received messages from some of our members (at GSCS), thanking us for taking a stand."

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