Durham board releases neutral language guidelines

“Is your mother home?”

According to the Durham District School Board’s new guidelines, using that term may be offensive to single and same-sex parents. Introduced earlier this month, the board’s “Guidelines for Inclusive Language” will help teachers and others in the DDSB system use gender-neutral and racially neutral terms.

Barry Bedford, education officer in the DDSB’s programs department, said the guidelines provide an educational tool for teachers unaware of certain customs.

“In one instance, there were aboriginals on the board who were really offended by the word ‘Indian,’ but other people in the room asked what the concern was because they didn’t know,” Bedford said.

These language guidelines, created in 2011, offer alternative word choices to avoid misunderstanding. For example, ‘manpower’ and ‘handicapped’ are replaced by the neutral terms, ‘workforce’ and ‘person with a disability.’

A similar set of guidelines are already used by such jurisdictions as the Toronto district school board, but Bedford felt Durham needed guidelines of its own.

“We utilized … existing documents and people from those cultures and asked, ‘What do you find offensive versus this?’ They are merely suggestions,” Bedford said.

Secondary school teacher, Copleys Gohagen has never had an issue with students in his classes, but understands the intent of the guidelines.

“I think instinctively people know what the right course of action should be,” Gohagen said, “but unless it is written in some type of formal document it’s not something you necessarily practise.”

By the same token Gohagen thinks the guidelines sometimes go too far.

“I just find it odd that I have come to a stage where I always have to be watching my p’s and q’s,” Gohagen said.

Bedford asserts, however, that the inclusive language guidelines are just that.

“It’s for people who want to know more,” he said. “The first time I meet you I don’t want to offend you based on my own lack of knowledge. Especially for people in the school division, we have one chance to make a first impression.”