Mehrpouya H photo, courtesy of Upsplash

Comox Valley classrooms reopen with need for sexual health education

Sep 4, 2019 | Education, Latest Feature

By George Le Masurier

This is the last in a series of articles about sexual health education in our public schools

Comox Valley children and teenagers returned to School District 71 classrooms this week to embark on another year of academics, athletics, artistic endeavors and positive social interactions.

But it’s also inevitable that some teens will sexually harass or bully other teens. Some teens will badger other teens for nude or partially-nude photos and then disloyally distribute them through their schools.

According to members of the District Parent Advisory Council’s committee on sexual health education, online sexual harassment has become so prevalent that teens no longer report any but the most traumatic incidents.

To combat this escalating trend that is common to all school districts across North America, Comox Valley parents have pressed the district to fill gaps in its sexual health education program. And that has led to significant changes.

Sexual health education received its own line item in next year’s annual budget and made a debut in the district’s new four-year strategic plan.

The district budgeted district-wide sexual health support for approximately eight hours per week (0.2 FTE) at $19,260, plus another $5,000 for sexual and mental health resources in a separate line item. Parent advocates were underwhelmed by the small financial commitment.

So what are other school districts doing in BC, and how are other province’s dealing with sexual health education?

 

Provinces compared

According to a Global News survey last year, BC rated favorably in introducing sexual health education topics at early ages.

For example, BC students are introduced to the concept of sexual orientation and gender identity in grade 6. But this doesn’t occur until grade 8 in PEI. BC children are told about Internet safety and sexting in grade 4, but not until grade 8 in Nova Scotia. BC students learn about consent in grade 8 and sexual abuse in kindergarten, but much later in other provinces.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford repealed a modernized version of that province’s sexual health curriculum causing students to walk out of class in protest.

In Alberta, former premier Rachel Notley rejected pressure from Roman Catholic school boards to teach their version of concepts around premarital sex, contraception and homosexuality. But new Premier Jason Kenney, who is a Roman Catholic, supports the church’s position.

 

Other BC school districts

Some BC school districts, such as Nanaimo, have hired full-time, district-wide sexual health educators.

Natalie Chelsom, the Nanaimo school district’s personal and sexual health educator, is a former public school teacher and a former professional sexual health educator with the company Options for Sexual Health. She says her job is building capacity and equity within the district, “so every student in every grade and in every school gets the same sexual health lessons the curriculum requires,” according to a Nanaimo News report.

That’s one of the issues Comox Valley parents have raised. Former District 71 Superintendent Dean Lindquist wasn’t convinced a full-time person would provide any benefit.

“What would this person do?” he told Decafnation earlier this year.

The Nanaimo district has taken a different approach. Assistant Superintendent Bob Esliger told the Nanaimo News that his district “wants to ensure it’s providing a standard delivery of sexual health education and an advantage of a sexual health educator is that she can meet with teachers, prepare guidelines, provide expertise and ensure an understanding of the scope of the curriculum.”

 

D71 changes coming?

The District 71 Board of Trustees will consider a proposal for improving sexual health education in Comox Valley schools at its first board meeting since June, on Sept. 24.

At that last board meeting in June, Director of Student Services Ester Shatz made five recommendations for improving sexual health education in the future, which partly address some of the Comox Valley parents’ concerns.

Among Shatz’s recommendations was a proposal to hire a professional sexual health educator to consult with the district for four hours per month and to use the balance of the money budgeted for this school year to help teachers get training and update their resource materials.

Shatz also suggested the development of a curriculum for grade 11 and 12 students about digital safety. That pleased Comox Valley parent advocates, although they wished she had gone further.

“I am very pleased with the recommendations that sexual health education be extended to grades 11 and 12 and that the district continue to draw upon Dr. Claire’s (Vanston) expertise both for curriculum development and teacher training,” Aldinger told Decafnation in June.

 

 

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