School district works to include, protect LGBTQ students

Michelle Penny will work to make the school district a safer and more inclusive space for LGBTQ students.
Michelle Penny will work to make the school district a safer and more inclusive space for LGBTQ students.


School District 73 has added a new staff member to its team. Michelle Penny started her new role as sexual-orientation and gender-identity co-ordinator this month.

The role was created after the district obtained funding from the ARC Foundation in Vancouver and the Ministry of Education for the position and programming related to anti-bullying and other policies.

Penny will be responsible for working with all staff members and teachers to raise awareness of the issues facing students and creating programming initiatives for the district’s schools. She will also work closely with co-ordinators in other districts and other local resources to create a connection and shared knowledge.

Trish Smillie, director of Student Support Services, said the district was looking forward to the changes Penny’s part-time work will bring.

“We are really excited that this position is going to create awareness,” Smillie said. “The network with other districts will create an inclusive and safe environment.”

Smillie said a pilot project with a co-ordinator role in a Delta school district was very successful and they hope to see similar results in the Kamloops-Thompson region.

As a member of the district, Sun Peaks’ school will have the opportunity to be involved closely if a local teacher expresses interest to Penny, said Smillie. Educators at Sun Peaks will also have access to various tool kits and developed resources.

In September, Education Minister Mike Bernier announced that by the end of 2016 all schools in the province must add specific protections for gay, lesbian and transgender students to their anti-bullying policies.

ARC’s initiative to fund this and similar roles came after discussion with districts and their communities expressed a desire for a more inclusive school environment. They have collaborated with the BC Ministry of Education, BC Teachers Federation, University of British Columbia Faculty of Education and Out in Schools.

In addition to funding to hire the co-ordinators, ARC has launched training tools, professional development courses, and other tools schools and educators can access.

The group also hosted a leadership summit on Oct. 21 to create solutions and examine opportunities to help ensure students feel safer at school.

The current contract in School District 73 will keep Penny in the role until June with the possibility of extension.