Comox Valley classrooms reopen with need for sexual health education

Comox Valley classrooms reopen with need for sexual health education

Mehrpouya H photo, courtesy of Upsplash

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford repealed a modernized version of that province’s sexual health curriculum causing students to walk out of class in protest.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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DeMarzo takes on expanded community role at CVRD

By George Le Masurier

The Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) announced today that Doug DeMarzo will be their new General Manager of Community Services. He will oversee the CVRD’s parks, recreation, fire protection, emergency management divisions.

Doug comes to the role with over 10 years’ experience leading teams in both Victoria and here at the CVRD in the parks and community services setting. Since 2014, he has been managing the parks system and promoting environmental protection and outdoor recreation within the region. 

“Doug has been acting within the role since last spring and demonstrated excellent leadership and strategic value within the role,” CVRD Chief Administrative Officer Russell Dyson said. “We are excited to see Doug within this role and the new ideas he will bring to the organization.”




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Cumberland gets $7 million infrastructure funding for wastewater treatment

Cumberland gets $7 million infrastructure funding for wastewater treatment

Cumberland lagoons will get an upgrade  /  Decafnation file photo

By George Le Masurier

Work will begin soon on Cumberland’s new wastewater treatment system after the Village received a $7 million grant from federal and provincial governments.

The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program announced this week that Cumberland had been awarded $7,113,010 from the program’s environmental quality stream. That’s about 75 percent of the village’s $9.7 million plan.

Cumberland has been out of compliance with the province’s wastewater treatment standards for many years, and was recently fined $85,000 by the Ministry of the Environment. The village is appealing that fine because over the last three years it has developed a plan to return to compliance and has actively sought funding to implement it.

“The village has worked very hard to find a Made in Cumberland treatment solution that is affordable for our taxpayers, “ Mayor Leslie Baird said.

Cumberland opted out of the South Sewer Project in 2016 for financial reasons. That plan was ultimately rejected by Royston and Union Bay voters because it was too expensive.

Cumberland then proposed a traditional treatment plan, but couldn’t find funding for its $21 million price tag.

The village hired Paul Nash, of Sechelt, to help develop a lower cost alternative that would meet provincial standards.

The now-funded plan will upgrade Cumberland’s existing lagoon-based wastewater treatment system, handle large combine storm-sewer flows and provide capacity for population growth. It uses an innovative features to filter out contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals.

“The final treated water will restore the natural summer “wet” conditions to a drained wetland and facilitate habitat restoration of the area, while providing natural polishing of the water to remove organic contaminants, before distribution to the natural wetlands north of the lagoon, then continuing to the Maple Creek Watershed,” according to a village press release.

Mayor Baird told Decafnation this week that the village has filed a complaint with the BC Ombudsman Office over the out-of-compliance fines. She said one arm of the provincial government was working with the village on their plan and funding it, while another arm was threatening to fine them.

“There were two arms working in silos,” she said. “They had no idea what the other was doing.”

Baird said the appeal is important because many small communities in BC are out of compliance and the fines and the time, travel and cost to appeal them can be a “huge burden” on small towns. Cumberland hopes to set a precedent through its appeal and complaint with the Ombudsman.

With the new funds and the village’s $1.2 million in reserves for the project’s capital costs, there will be little need for additional borrowing. During last October’s municipal elections, Cumberland voters approved borrowing for the project.

That may be good news for villagers who support construction of a new fire hall.

Cumberland doesn’t have the capacity to borrow both the whole wastewater project and a roughly $4 million fire hall.



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Wells will not seek re-election as CVRD board chair

Wells will not seek re-election as CVRD board chair

Decafnation file photo

By George Le Masurier

Courtenay Mayor Bob Wells will not seek re-election as chair of the Comox Valley Regional District, he told Decafnation this week.

The 10-member CVRD board elected Wells last November by drawing his name out of a hat.

He and Area C Director Edwin Grieve each received five votes in two separate elections. Previous Chair Bruce Jolliffee drew Wells name from a hat to settle the matter.

At the time, Wells said he would only serve one year.

“I have a city to run, a business to run, and I have a family,” he said. “I have a finite capacity and nobody’s perfected cloning.”

Wells will not reappoint himself as a City of Courtenay representative to the regional board. He said Wendy Morin and Will Cole-Hamilton will be Courtenay’s full-time regional directors.

Wells believes he was effective in his year at the helm. 

No other director has announced a bid for the chair, although it is expected that Grieve will run again. Other potential candidates include CVRD Vice-Chair Arzeena Hamir and Courtenay Director David Frisch.






Municipal councillors appointed to serve on the CVRD board receive about $13,000 per year in compensation. Electoral area directors receive about $34,000, and the CVRD board chair receives about $33,000.


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Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Is the horse about to leave barn?  /  Beauty, who used to live on Torrene Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

There are more than 100 trillion mosquitoes cruising around the planet, including swarm annoying folks who live around the Black Creek salt marsh, and all of them are looking to suck your blood.

This week, some residents around Miracle Beach and the salt marsh, told CBC News they were “prisoners in their own homes” and that it was “like an apocalypse.”

One woman said, “We also have cancer-causing [mosquito repellant] that we’re spraying on our children in mass quantities,” she said.

Decafnation isn’t convinced of the wisdom of that, but after reading author Timothy C. Winegard’s description in a New York Times article of what a mosquito actually does, extreme measures don’t seem out of line.

“She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated mandible cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this straw she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.”


If you’re lucky, all the mosquito leaves behind is an itchy bump. If you’re not, the little bugger could have infected you with malaria, West Nile, Zika, dengue or Yellow Fever, and you could be dead. Winegard says mosquitoes kill 700,000 people every year and may have killed half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived.

The Miracle Beach folks are getting a taste of mosquito nastiness that refugees from eastern Canada have endured for centuries.

One of the great things about living on the west coast has always been the absence of insects, especially the blood-sucking kind. But changing climate conditions have encouraged mosquitoes — and probably other species as well — to seek out the O blood types (their favorite) of Canadians chillin’ on the coast.

Welcome to our new reality.

When Comox Valley kids return to classrooms in September, schools are supposed to know who has been immunized and who hasn’t. The province’s new Vaccination Status Reporting Regulation went into effect July 1.

Under the new immunization registry requirements, all parents and guardians must submit their children’s vaccination records before they can enter public schools.

Recent outbreaks of measles in BC should remind us that deadly viruses never completely disappear.

Measles was declared eradicated in 2000. But there has been increasing numbers of confirmed cases recently. The resurgence of a disease that not long ago was killing nearly half a million people annually around the world, stresses the importance to remain vigilant about vaccinations.

In particular, parents must continue to immunize their children.

Health experts estimate that immunizations have prevented more than 103 million cases of contagious diseases in the last 100 years. Vaccines eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people. Before the whooping cough vaccine was created in 1940, more than 10,000 people were dying every year from the disease in North America.
Parents who don’t immunize their children are gambling on more than their own child’s risk of contracting highly communicable diseases. They are putting others at risk, too, including children medically ineligible for immunization and cancer patients on chemotherapy.

Mike Fournier, a former Fifth Street sports shop owner and one of the driving forces behind the original Comox Valley Search and Rescue team, has contacted Decafnation with an update on the mysterious disappearance of a hiker in Strathcona Park back in 1977. Two weeks ago, we posted a story about that strange occurrence of events and said that the hiker, Duane Bressler, was never found.

But it turns out we didn’t look deep enough into the old Comox District Free Press archives. Fournier contacted us to say the Bressler’s body was eventually found, more than a year after he disappeared. Some hikers in the area of Mt. Septimus and Green Lake provided a tip that led the SAR team to the steep cliffs between Price Creek and Green Lake.

You can read the story here.




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