HRSB technology excludes gender diverse students: Time for an update

Updated: Sep 5, 2018

Dear HRSB, It's time to get inclusive. You talk-the-talk. Time's up. Now, Walk-the-walk and stop humiliating my child, outing others and making children who identify differently feel unwelcome.

My child is working super-hard at school this year. I mean, he's engaged. Lights on. Systems-a-Go. And last week he got to fly the colours of a 'dedicated-effort-pay-off'.

Thursday was Report Card Day

He charged off the bus all smiles, in the door, with the yellow envelope waving in the air.

'Mum, I got MORE A's then B's! I have a great report card!' (Enthusiasm over-load)

He hasn't always had report cards like this. The past few years has been a struggle and it reflected in his school marks and his learning engagement levels. This year, though, has been different.

Until yesterday when HRSB and their computer system program, PowerSchool, failed him. And I think the system a.k.a the HRCE, former Halifax Regional School Board, must do better.

PowerSchool is a computer program with a lot of positive's attributes, but the inability to update a change in a child's gender. And here's the real kicker, since 2014 the Ontario Human Rights Commission Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression has enabled School Administrators and Supervisors to update school records to reflect the gender a student identifies as, regardless of legal documents. This is essential for protecting the privacy of Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) and trans youth.

And these little letters - F and M - are a barrier. Here's why: According to a glitch in the system that prevents gender marker changes, this happened:

My child hasn't been referred to as a 'SHE' in almost one year -- or to be precise, 3 Report Cards.

He didn't read it at first. It was Friday night, when we lied on the bed going through the successes and accomplishments of this Grade 6 mid-year report. Then I read Music 6. I actually gasped. I think I mostly, I felt shock; like a gut punch.

And then he read it too.

The joy on his face turned to confusion. Eyebrows scrunched, he sat up and re-read it. And then asked, why?

And then he just got sad.

I explained, it's a mistake and your teacher didn't mean it. And I know it's likely a copy-and-paste situation... but inside I was boiling.

Even if you can't change a Gender Marker from F to M, take away the algorithm that forces a Gender Marker altogether. Or how about, change She/Her to Them/Their. How would that read?

'John Doe is encouraged to further develop their musical responses.'

How hard is that change? What's the cost of not humiliating a portion of the student body? For Ontario, it was the cost of a Memo to the School Boards.

Being an 11-year-old transgender boy who transitioned openly to his class in Grade 5 isn't easy. There is an abundance of microagressions he faces daily. These subtle actions or words from people who tolerate his existence but don't accept him; they take their toll.

On a larger scale, he's been called, 'Bitch', 'It', and other stuff, possibly worse.

He's been physically assaulted by another student, but refused to report the student because he says he has to be strong.

'Boys don't rat out other boys, Mum....If I tell on them, no one will like me. The guys won't be accept me.'

He refused to let us, as his parents say anything to the school. My point is, he's forever working at being accepted. To fit in. It's like he has to prove who he is every day.

His gender identity isn't about trendy. It's not fun for him. It's simply who he is and how he identifies, and so he wears a brave face and he keeps moving forward.

Back to Report Card Day. HRSB has to update PowerSchool because it is supposed to support all children. That means the system has to ensure the correct gender is written throughout my child's entire Report Card.

I spoke to our Vice Principal Friday morning and it was handled amazingly (they've been one of our strongest supporters from the beginning) and launched an investigation as to how it happened. The school itself has been incredibly supportive of Dillon's journey. And this error wasn't a handwritten one.

Seems he knows exactly who he is. His teacher's know who he is. But the computer system is confused. It can't recognize a gender change. Or be gender neutral.

Our VP told me, 'we as teachers and advocates are learning, but we don't like it when we have to learn through our student's who've experienced a bad situation.' She agreed it's not good enough and the system - something as simple as an algorithm that defines F or M - needs to be updated. Institution Challenge 101.

To HRCE -- Get an update for your PowerSchool program so it stops humiliating my child, outing others and making children who identify differently feel unwelcome.

And please do it before my son's Elementary School Graduation in June. Asking teachers to manually go in and update a child's gender is antiquated and inefficient, not to mention it potentially outs children who don't want their birth gender public.

Our elementary school is correcting and reprinting his report card. His Principal gave us a call to reiterate how sorry they were this happened. And I'm truly grateful. And I recognize we are all on a learning journey and need a little extra proofing.

I still have to wonder, why are the human rights policies more protective of GNC and trans students in Ontario than they are in Nova Scotia? How is that OK? Human rights are human rights.

For a child, feeling like your teacher doesn't support you, doesn't see you or doesn't recognize you for who you are, can have a powerful impact on how you perceive going to school.

Words matter. Words are powerful. We can only go forward and the time is now.

It's Simply Good Form. #inclusionmatters