Sex-ed gets parents talking
|By Sue Tiffin - Staff Writer | September 21, 2015|
The Trillium Lakelands District School Board hasn’t received any formal complaints about the new health and physical education curriculum, but some local parents are questioning changes made to its sexual education component.
The curriculum, in particular it’s human development and sexual health component, has been a hot topic in the media due to parent protests across the province. Revisions to the curriculum—the first since 1998—include updated sections about online safety, mental health, healthy relationships and the risks of sexting. Parent groups in Ontario have spoken out about the age-appropriateness of the information, which includes optional prompts about the concepts of masturbation, and oral and anal sex as they relate to sexually transmitted infections. Some have pulled students from class. The province has responded with public service announcements about the curriculum, which is available online.
“We have had no formal complaints or concerns from Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) parents,” said Catherine Shedden, TLDSB manager of communications. “We have received a couple of letters and some emails that were mass communicated to all school boards across the province from groups protesting the curriculum.”
Shedden said students can’t opt out of an entire curriculum, but parents can discuss concerns with teachers or principals to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Teachers also have the opportunity to delay teaching updated components until formal training has taken place. Training has not taken place due to the current labour action situation.
“The updated health and physical education curriculum is relevant and age-appropriate,” she said. “Parents and educators play critical and complementary roles to support students learning about human development and sexual health.”
Archie Stouffer Elementary School (ASES) principal Traci Hubbert said the school has always been open and available to discuss curriculum with parents. Teachers at ASES send letters home to parents prior to discussing human development in class. She said the local health unit has been a helpful partner in coordinating additional resources for students and teachers. Hubbert also thought the material in the curriculum was age appropriate and said the school council chair was asked to give feedback on it prior to its implementation.
“We want our kids to have the best information possible to make informed decisions,” she said. “With social media and things kids are seeing on TV, to pretend those things don’t happen, I think, would be doing kids adisservice.”
Tammy Henry, a parent of students in grades 5 and 8, doesn’t agree with the new curriculum.
“I think it’s wrong. For example, my daughter is in Grade 5 and she does not need to be learning it. We didn’t until Grade 9, and only a little in health ed class,” said Henry. “I think the children should talk to parents about it.”
While she doesn’t mind kids being informed about sexually transmitted diseases, she believes it’s too much information too soon.
“It’s fine to teach kids about right and wrong, but they don’t need to explain everything to young kids.”
Parent Pasi Posti said he’s aware of the message being seen in the media but believes some topics should be a parent’s responsibility and should be taught at home when parents feel it’s the right time.
“We value our children’s innocence,” said Posti. “We just do our best to help maintain it and help protect them from having it taken from them. We just want it to be on our terms, these are our kids.”
Posti said it’s essential for parents to understand what children are being taught. He noted that some parents might avoid conversations, but he and his wife take time to speak with their kids each day.
Hubbert agreed that parents have an important role in teaching kids at home, and said ideally parents and schools can work together to help educate kids.
“I think parents always have a right to look out for their children’s well-being,” she said. “As a school, we have a responsibility to play a role and hopefully the roles can complement each other. Kids will be way more successful if the parents are talking about it, too. Then it’s a safe topic.”
Teachers at ASES generally wait until the end of the year to discuss topics students might feel uncomfortable about, so that a relationship between student and teacher has been established.
“These are normal parts of human development and we don’t want that to be something that’s scary,”
said Hubbert. “We want kids to feel okay with who they are as people.”
Posti stressed he and his wife aren’t opposed to the curriculum.
“We have a responsibility as parents to not accept everything that comes our way,” he said. “But I don’t fear it. We’re not battling, we’re not challenging it, we’re just trying our best to work through it. We’re just for good parenting.”
SUE TIFFIN is a reporter for The Highlander.