School trustee candidates for Dec. 12 Area C by-election speak at digital forum

School trustee candidates for Dec. 12 Area C by-election speak at digital forum

The 2020 COVID virus pandemic played a role in the Area C school trustee candidates forum  |  Image from the Comox Valley Schools Facebook page

School trustee candidates for Dec. 12 Area C by-election speak at digital forum

By George Le Masurier

In the Comox Valley’s first digital-only local government election forum last night, six Electoral Area C candidates made their pitch for the Dec. 12 District 71 trustee by-election.

The six candidates — Randi Baldwin, Kandice Bielert, Monica Parkin, Terence Purden, Cristi May-Sacht and Rob Thompson — answered questions about accountability, the district’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program, how schools should handle the stress and mental concerns caused by the pandemic and how they would handle public criticisms of board decisions.

Jenn Fisher and Brooke Finlayson, members of the District Parent Advisory Council, organized the forum in response to requests from Area C parents. Fisher, the DPAC secretary, introduced the forum and Finlayson, DPAC vice-chair, asked questions submitted by parents.

In a statement to Decafnation after the forum, District 71 School Board Chair Sheila McDonnell thanked the DPAC organizers and all the candidates for showing such interest in education.

“We are pleased to have this interest in School District 71 and encourage eligible residents of Area C to get out to vote,” she said. “We look forward to having a successful candidate join us in working to support student success in the Valley.”

Finlayson told Decafnation that the forum’s questions were submitted by parents, community, and partner groups to help voters in their decision making.

“DPAC’s mandate is to provide opportunities for parent education, and although it is not only parents who vote, all community members have a vested interest in education,” she said. “We appreciate the candidate’s willingness to participate and to answer the questions asked of them. We have received positive feedback that last night’s forum was helpful.”

 

THE QUESTIONS

As it has for most of 2020, the COVID pandemic shaded most of the candidates’ opening statements and it returned repeatedly in their response throughout the evening.

And while candidates expressed differences in style, there were few clear disagreements over district policies.

The exception came when the candidates were asked for their opinions on the district’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program (SOGI), which is a provincially mandated part of the curriculum.

Purden said the SOGI policy was “written for lawyers.” And Thompson said he doesn’t support “100 percent of 100 percent of the policy,” but added that would also be true of any particular program.

Baldwin and Bielert noted that the SOGI program is part of the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, so they support it. They also would monitor feedback from students and teachers, to see how it’s working, whether it’s effective and if everyone is comfortable.

Parkin said there’s “always room for change” and that “how we treat one person should be how we treat everyone.” She said the program is mandated so the district is obligated to support it. “We should leave our biases aside,” she said.

May-Sacht said she’s “thankful the program is finally here” because people naturally “fear the unknown.” She supported “educating parents and students with dignity and respect.”

 

OTHER QUESTIONS

On the question of trustee accountability, most candidates emphasized the importance of listening carefully to constituents and teachers and share that feedback with the full board.

Parkin equated accountability with integrity and honesty. May-Sacht said accountability meant taking responsibility for your actions and doing what you say you will do.

Baldwin said trustees are accountable to everyone in the chain, from students to the Education Minister.

Bielert said it meant not just giving lip service to parents and PACs.

Thompson said it requires trustees to stay up-to-date all the time and to speak with great intent.

On the question of how to ensure Area C parents stay engaged with schools, all of the candidates’ responses revolved around communication.

Baldwin the keys to parental engagement was communication, listening and attending PAC meetings.

Bielert said the needs and concerns of parents on issues like SOGI and bullying should have a larger voice at the board to validate them.

Parkin said she would address issues unique to Area C, such as busing and the age of schools in the area. Parents need to be heard on those issues and trustees should be tuned into them. They should be as visible and available as possible.

May-Scaht said the trustees should participate in the schools’ PACs and engage parents differently, using Zoom and social media.

On the question of how they would handle conflicts with the public when they think a board decision is unfair, the candidates expressed different approaches but generally agreed that more careful listening was needed.

Thompson referred to his long history as an educator at the secondary and post-secondary levels and of his experience in handling corners. He said the objective is always to find a consensus where everyone can operate safely.

Parkin said she would endeavor to find the roots of a complaint. Before responding to a parent, she would go back and ask more questions to get to the deeper reasons for their concerns.

May-Sacht said the trustee is just one person that is part of a larger team. And they may not be able to change a board decision, but she would allow people to vent, and answer them honestly, getting more information when necessary.

Purden said he would listen carefully.

Baldwin would respectfully listen and take the feedback to the board, but said that a trustee can’t change a board decision.

Bielert would listen to hear if the person felt they were part of a process. She said board decisions stand, but sometimes decisions need to be reviewed.

On the question of how to ease the stress and possible mental health concerns during these disruptive times, the candidates had a variety of suggestions.

May-Sacht suggested opening lines of communication and focusing on what everyone can do, such as share love and encourage positivity at home. She urged people to be physically active.

Purden said the board should keep people up to date so there’s no confusion or fear.

Baldwin focused on communication and the importance of trustees leading by example. Fear is the problem, she said, because it makes it hard to function, but it can be alleviated with information.

Bielert said trustees can be supportive and positive and ensure safety measures in the schools.

Thompson returned to the listening theme. He said it demonstrates the intent to trust and encourages trust. He suggested the concept of appreciative enquiry, or looking for the right things and to always circle back with people.

Parkin said her first objective is to make sure everyone in the schools are physically and emotionally safe. And that they feel valued whoever they are at their core.

 

WHEN, WHERE TO VOTE

Advance voting begins tomorrow, Wednesday, Dec. 2, from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at the Merville Hall, 1245 Fenwick Road, Merville. And it continues on Thursday, Dec.10, from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at the School District Office, 607 Cumberland Road, Courtenay.

General Voting takes place on Saturday, Dec.12, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at NAVIGATE school, formerly called NIDES and prior to that, referred to as Tsolum School, 2505 Smith Road, Courtenay.

 

 

 

 

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Rob Thompson: SD 71 trustee candidate looks at the future of education post-pandemic

Rob Thompson: SD 71 trustee candidate looks at the future of education post-pandemic

Rob Thompson, candidate for the Area C position on the Comox Valley School Board  |  Submitted photo

Rob Thompson: SD 71 trustee candidate looks at the future of education post-pandemic

By Guest Writer

BY ROB THOMPSON

At this stage, we should be preparing for worst-case scenario. Covid-Coronavirus is showing no signs of dissipating soon. The remainder of this item is offered with absolute respect and is in no way intended to make light of the situation. People are passing away from this disease.

That said, the pandemic eventually will loosen its grasp on our lives and our economy, and we will have fiscal liabilities remaining at every level of government – Federal, Provincial, Municipal. One way of offsetting at least some of these deficits will be to use the most cost-effective methods for the delivery of services.

Online-virtual education at Kindergarten-Grade 12 level seems set to be one of these cost-effective services.

I did an MA in Leadership at Royal Roads on the cusp of this century, completing a thesis in implementing online education (k-12). I was then hired by RRU to, over the next decade-plus. instruct cohorts of administrators, both domestic and international, in which technologies-programs at the time best suited K-12 learners – and to instruct teachers, both domestic and international, in how best to utilize the technologies selected to engage K-12 learners to maximum effect.

My situation was therefore balanced positively, as I was working with K-12 administrators and teachers at the same time I was working with secondary school students themselves day-to-day.

I am in the process of completing my Education Doctorate, with a thesis on the topic of what K-12 learners in this current (2020) decade bring to the table in terms of preferences, skills, knowledge and attributes. The majority proportion of these students seem well prepared to maximize their learning in online-virtual environments, quite possibly reducing the need for as many face-to-face learning sessions and therefore reducing the need for as many face-to-face spaces.

I don’t claim to know everything about these complex areas of education.

Nor do I know everything about every one of the learners in the K-12 pipeline. They are your daughters and your sons: you know them better than anyone. So we will need you to step up and engage in the conversation. If elected as a Trustee for SD71, I will invite you to participate in this conversation.

There is nothing to say there is not a ‘sweet spot’ (a mix of online-virtual and face-to-face learning experiences) that extends each child’s learning to the maximum possible for that child.

With that in mind, space is space. Space can be used by any number of processes. Down island, the kilns of a no longer functioning mill have been converted to both work and office spaces for small businesses. Imagine a scenario where fewer face-to-face learning experiences mean consolidation of existing ‘schools’ into fewer buildings – leaving the remaining buildings for, well, housing, or offices, or other necessary, potential revenue-creating activities.

Education for every child remains my priority – and my focus should I be elected Trustee.

That includes the possibilities that might become available for our indigenous children. Imagine the possibilities of an indigenous child from our community joining an online-virtual environment shared by other indigenous children located internationally, with all of that access to countless centuries of ‘ways of knowing’ and techniques of knowledge dissemination.

All of this is possible. Vote for me, and let’s fire up the conversation.

 

AREA C VOTERS TO ELECT NEW SCHOOL BOARD TRUSTEE

Due to the resignation of the formerly elected Area C representative, voters will go to the polls on Saturday, Dec. 12 to choose a new school board trustee. The six candidates are:

Randi Baldwin, Kandice Bielert, Monica Parkin, Terence Pruden, Cristi May Sacht and Robert Thompson.

All candidates are welcome to submit articles for publication on this website.

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New approach to mental health, substance issues to benefit SD71 students

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New approach to mental health, substance issues to benefit SD71 students

By George Le Masurier

Comox Valley students with mental health or substance use issues will have a new and more easily accessible pathway for help starting sometime in December.

The province has chosen School District 71 as the second of five districts to pilot a project linking health care and school resources to create a “one-care-plan” approach that will provide help when and where students need it.

BC Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Judy Darcy made the announcement at GP Vanier High School today. The province has allocated $22.1 million over three years to implement the project in five districts. Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows was the first.

Tom Demeo, Superintendent of Schools, Comox Valley School District praised the new concept.

“We are extremely fortunate to be part of this great initiative,” he said. “Student mental health is one of our district’s strategic focuses and through this partnership, we will be able to work collaboratively with our community partners to provide our students with resources that will strengthen and improve their mental health.”

In making the announcement, Darcy said estimated 84,000 BC children aged four to 17 years experience mental health disorders at any given time. From 2009 to 2017, there was an 86 percent increase in hospitalizations in B.C. for mental health issues among youth under 25 years of age.

She said promoting wellness, preventing mental health and addictions challenges, and intervening early in life can reduce problems as people grow and develop. She estimated that 70 percent of mental health and substance use problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence.

Ronna-Rae Leonard, Courtenay-Comox MLA, welcomed the news.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in enrolment over the past few years so added supports – especially in the areas of mental health and overall wellness for students – could not have come at a better time,” she said.

According to a ministry press release “integrated teams will work closely with school and team-based primary care and specialized services providers to offer wraparound care to children, youth and their families.

This means individuals experiencing mental health and substance use challenges and their families will no longer need to retell their stories to different care providers or search on their own for the supports they need.”

“For far too long, families have had to knock on door after door to get the help they need for their children,” Darcy said. “These integrated child and youth teams will make it so much easier to connect young people to the help they need, where and when they need it.”

Darcy and Leonard were in the Comox Valley today for the announcement.

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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

Comox Valley classrooms reopen with need for sexual health education

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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Why parents worry: sexting, porn, abuse and no education when it’s most relevant

Why parents worry: sexting, porn, abuse and no education when it’s most relevant

Stock photo by Blake Barlow from Upsplash

Why parents worry: sexting, porn, abuse and no education when it’s most relevant

By George Le Masurier

Third in a series examining the state of sexual health education in public schools

Comox Valley parents have led the BC movement for expanded sexual health education in public schools, and they have received wide support from both education officials and parents across the province.

But why has sexual health education become such an important topic? And why are parents focused on expanding the BC curriculum into grades 11 and 12, and insisting that it include components about the concept of ‘consent’ and online safety?

According to members of the District 71 Parents Advisory Council’s special committee on sexual health education, smartphones, social media and access to online pornography have created a crisis of sexual issues among our youth and in our schools.

“Teens in our schools are being sexually harassed on a regular basis. Boys they don’t even know, but who are friends of friends on social media send girls messages asking for nude pictures. It’s so constant that some girls are apprehensive about going to school out of fear of being asked for pictures,” Brooke Finlayson told Decafnation. “Deleting these requests and blocking the senders has become a part of their daily ritual.”

And the harassment doesn’t end with sexting. Denying these requests can lead to bullying. Complying leads to long-term humiliation. Once you hit send, you can never take it back.

Finlayson says it’s a scary new world for educators, teens and their parents.

“I’m not so worried about the creepy old guy down the block these days. I know how to deal with him,” Finlayson said. “I’m worried about the 14-year-old boy sexting my daughter, cyberbullying her or other ways of sexually harassing her.”

Online sexual harassment has become so prevalent, say Finlayson and Jenn Fisher, another member of the DPAC sexual health committee, that teens no longer report any but the most traumatic incidents.

And that is what worries District 71 Superintendent Dean Lindquist the most.

“I’m concerned about the iceberg rule,” Lindquist told Decafnation. “It’s what’s not reported to us, it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that worries me.”

 

WHAT IS HAPPENING IN OUR SCHOOLS?

A simple online search will bring up multiple cases of sexual harassment among teens.

Three boys in Kamloops charged with child pornography for distributing nude photos of girls without their consent, six students charged with sexual assault in Toronto, a Victoria girl charged with possession and distribution of child pornography for sexting nude photos of her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

A recent University of Calgary study found that one in four teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have received sexually explicit texts or videos, one in seven have sent them and one in eight have forwarded ‘sexts’ on to other teens without consent.

And if it’s happening elsewhere, it’s happening here.

Wendy Morin, the co-founder of Comox Valley Girls Group and who leads weekly group discussions for teenage girls, who is also a Courtenay City Councillor, estimates that at least five percent of locally reported sexual assault cases occur on school property.

While most sexual assaults go unreported among teens, as well as in the adult population, the Courtenay RCMP have received a half-dozen reports in the last six months involving secondary school students.

In addition, Comox Valley Family Services also confirms it handles sex-related incidents not reported to the police, but that come through school counsellors, family members or the teenagers themselves.

Morin said teachers are usually unaware of trauma that may exist within students who skip classes. She said the students may not attend because of a sexual assault by a classmate and they can’t face that person in the same room.

“Too often a girl has to make accommodations for the situation, move out of class or a school,” she told Decafnation. “Usually (there is) no solid proof to discipline the boy and without blame (it) implies innocence … but the girl carries the burden forever.”

Jenn Fisher has knowledge of girls being pressured to send nude pictures or receiving nude pictures of male body parts, of 10-year-old girls trying to be cool and joining in text threads filled with racist, misogynist comments and of students creating “meme pages” on Instagram meant to represent teachers as well as students.

“Some teachers walk the school hallways with their head down out of fear of a picture showing up online of them unintentionally looking the wrong way,” she told Decafnation.

Just recently, the parents of a Highland school girl reported to the RCMP that someone had uploaded their daughter’s picture and personal information to a porn site without her knowledge or consent. She may not have been the only victim.

“The level of harassment in our schools indicates a lack of education and understanding about the ramifications of their (students) decisions,” Fisher told Decafnation. “We have a sexual health education deficit.”

 

SEXUAL HEALTH IN GRADES 11 & 12

Because many of the most serious and complex sexual harassment issues occur among older students, Comox Valley parents have pressed District 71 and the Ministry of Education to expand its sexual health curriculum into the schedules of grade 11 and 12 students.

At present, BC does not require sexual health education after Grade 10.

But, according to Statistics Canada, girls ages 15 to 17 report the highest rate of gender-based violence among all age groups, and McCreary Centre’s most recent BC Adolescent Health Survey (2018) reported that the rates of sexual abuse, dating violence and sexual harassment had increased from its previous survey five years ago.

It’s a decision that has confounded parents as well as sexual health experts like Jennifer Gibson, the coordinator of Community Education Services for Island Sexual Health.

“Research consistently tells us that as youth age, those who choose to be sexually active are more likely to do so within this age group. Yet, we withdraw formal opportunities to access this information at the same time … when the information has the most practical relevance to their lives,” Gibson told Decafnation.

“That to me (admitting my complete bias) is nonsensical,” she said.

To date, education administrators and trustees have defended the exclusion of grade 11 and 12 students based on higher academic pressures.

District 71 Superintendent Dean Lindquist says there’s no room in the schedule of grade 11 and 12 students. He says sexual health programs would have to be taught outside of regular school hours.

Janice Canton, chair of the District 71 Board of Trustees, agrees.

“At the moment, there are no plans to extend sexual health education at the grade 11 or 12 levels. The reality is that the majority of courses (for them) are electives in nature. That is student choice, so mandating a course more than likely would not work,” she told Decafnation on June 21.

But that argument doesn’t convince the professional sexual health educators.

“If the argument is that senior students have a large academic load, why not be creative in the delivery methods and integrate sexual health education into all areas of the education curriculum?” Gibson said. “Let’s look beyond the basic sexual health talk. There is no shortage of opportunities to include sexuality discussions in all topic areas.”

Kerri Isham, a sexual health educator and founder of Power Up Workshops, says the topic should be delivered in grades 11 and 12 “when youth are starting to be sexually active.”

“I have taught up to grade 12 in several of my schools in BC. This was negotiated at a school level with counsellors, teachers and principals in both public and private schools,” she told Decafnation. “It is a choice and a priority. Where there is a will, there is a way.”

 

A FOCUS ON TECHNOLOGY

In today’s digital world, most children have online access to explicit photographs and videos.

So parents have also asked District 71 and the BC Ministry of Education to add content “relating to the interplay between sexual health and technology,” according to a resolution proposed by Shannon Aldinger of the Ecole Puntledge Parks Elementary Parents Advisory Council and passed unanimously by all 42 of the province’s school districts attending a recent conference of parent groups.

The current curriculum doesn’t address technology or social media issues directly or comprehensively.

Dr. Claire Vanston, a sexual health education expert who has provided programming for District 71 for many years, contends that the average age of a child’s first exposure to online pornography is around 11 or 12. Canadian studies show that 90 percent of 14-year-old boys and 60 percent of same-aged girls had watched sexually explicit online materials.

Isabel McKinnon, the community-based victim service worker and coordinator of sexual assault for Comox Valley Family Services Association, says online pornography is an increasing factor and a deeper underlying issue in sexual harassment.

“Nobody wants to talk about that,” she told Decafnation. “But young men get the idea that this is how women want to be treated. It can be an addiction.”

Wendy Morin, who has 20 years of experience dealing with victims of sexual pressure, laments that porn is filling the gap in sexual health education.

“With pornography, kids hyperspeed through the normal sexual experience,” she told Decafnation. “It affects what they think is appropriate.”

The prevalence of smartphone and other devices in schools that connect to the Internet through the school’s wi-fi network have added to these issues for educators. In District 71, each school makes its own rules regarding phone and tablet usage.

 

WHAT IS THE SCHOOL’S OBLIGATION?

Superintendent Lindquist says District 71 has to balance the views of parents advocating for more sexual health education with those of parents who want less.

“Not all parents agree on sexual health education,” Lindquist says.

However, in the SD71 Parent Advisory Council, 11 schools voted in favor or otherwise endorsed the Ecole Puntledge Park’s resolution for expanded sexual health education. Those schools were Airport Elementary, Arden Elementary, Aspen Elementary, Brooklyn Elementary, Cumberland Elementary, Highland Secondary, Huband Elementary, Mark Isfeld Secondary, Puntledge Elementary, Robb Road Elementary and Vanier Secondary.

And a recent School District 71 public survey asking for feedback on its five-year strategic plan elicited scores of request for more sexual health education and none for less of it.

Jennifer Gibson of Island Sexual Health says most parents want more.

“I have had the privilege of working with more than 100,000 youth, parents and educators and the vast majority overwhelmingly tell me how they want more opportunities to receive this information, not less,” she said.

District 71 School Trustee Sheila McDonnell says, “Ideally, sexual health education would be taught at home.”

“Yeah, but what if it isn’t,” she said. “Schools have to find a way to support it.”

Jenn Fisher agrees.

“Parents have a responsibility, for sure, but the school does too, to fill in the gaps. It’s a collaboration,” she said.

Ultimately, say Fisher and Finlayson, parents and the school district have the same goal: to keep our kids safe.

Finlayson says trustees and district administrators have to recognize that it isn’t the same world in today’s schools that they remember.

“When I was in school, stuff happened at the lake. Stuff happened at the beach. But there wasn’t any social media then,” she said.

Sexual assault was a quiet problem during her school years, she says, and 30 years later, the silence is still being held by young women. Social media has reinforced the silence due to the ramifications of reporting incidents of assault or harassment.

Wendy Morin sees the need for specific sexual health education aimed at boys. She points to programs like the White Ribbon Campaign and Project Respect that intervene to change male cultures.

“We need programs that teach impulse control and consent,” she said.

Next: How other districts and other provinces handle sexual health education

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 SERIOUS ISSUES PORN CULTURE FUELS IN HIGH SCHOOLS

Here are nine facts about porn culture in high school today that everyone deserves to know whether you’re headed there soon, or you just lived through it yourself. If education is power in this fight for love, knowing what’s going down is the first step to fighting against it.

 

WHEN IS SEXUAL ACTIVITY AMONG ADOLESCENTS A CRIME?

In Canada, a sexual assault is an assault committed in circumstances of a sexual nature, such that the sexual integrity of the victim is violated. This involves intentionally applying force to the victim, directly or indirectly, and without consent. 

Sexual activity without consent is always a crime, regardless of the age of the individual

Children under age 12 are never considered able to consent to sexual activity

Children 12 or older, but younger than 124, are deemed unable to consent to sexual acts except under specific circumstances involving sexual activity with their peers

Young persons 14 or older, but younger than 18, are protected from sexual exploitation and their consent is not valid if the person touching them for a sexual purpose is in a position of trust or authority over them, or if the young person is in a relationship of dependency with the person

It is not a defense to these crimes for the accused to say that he or she believed the younger person was older

It is recognized that adolescents, as part of their normal development, may engage in some sexual exploration. To allow for this, the law says that it is not a crime for two adolescents who are close in age to agree to sexual activity. The consent of both adolescents is essential.

In cases where the alleged victim is 12 or older but younger than 14, the defense that the victim consented to the sexual activity can therefore be raised by an adolescent accused of sexual abuse. The court can accept this defense if the accused is less than two years older than the victim and is not yet 16 years of age. However, the defense is not available if the accused is in a position of trust or authority in relation to the victim, or if the victim is in a relationship of dependency with the accused.

— BC Medical Journal

 

— McCreary BC Adolescent Health Survey (2018)

 

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Sexual health education improving — slowly — in Comox Valley schools

Sexual health education improving — slowly — in Comox Valley schools

Stock photo by Kylii Kittus on Upsplash

Sexual health education improving — slowly — in Comox Valley schools

By George Le Masurier

Second in a series examining the state of sexual health education in public schools

Comox Valley parents are at the forefront of sexual health education in British Columbia, having recently won unanimous province-wide support for an expanded public schools curriculum that got the attention and a large measure of respect from Education Ministry officials.

Every BC school district that attended the recent Conference of Parent Advisory Council’s annual general meeting last month, voted to support a resolution from Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary parents that calls for an age-appropriate curriculum, including consent and online safety as key concepts, from Kindergarten through Grade 12.

At present, sexual health education in BC ends in Grade 10, and the provincial curriculum does not focus on consent or the risks posed by modern technology. Nor does the province fully fund consent-based training for teachers, another demand in the parents’ resolution.

On the local level, parents’ advocacy through individual, school-based Parent Advisory Councils has shone a light on gaps in sexual health education within School District 71, and their work has led to significant changes.

District student services director makes five recommendations about how to spend 2019/2020 sexual health education funding, which has dropped from previous years

For the first time, sexual health education received its own line item in next year’s annual budget and makes a debut in the district’s new four-year strategic plan. There has also been a significant increase this year in the amount of sexual health education classroom time for K-10 students.

The parents and commending the board and district administration for these improvements, even though some of their other issues haven’t been as well received.

Beyond more classroom time, parents have advocated for nearly two years to expand sexual health education into Grades 11 and 12, to create uniformity and consistency of lessons across the district and to fund a designated district-wide sexual health educator to provide oversight of content and coaching for teachers.

Comox Valley parents have also asked the district to develop new policies regarding sexual harassment and assault that include a protocol for reporting and disclosure of incidents involving students.

Despite widespread support for these initiatives from SD71 Parent Advisory Councils, and a province-wide parental endorsement, the local district administration and board of trustees have been hesitant.

 

Making sexual health education a priority

School Board Chair Janice Caton says sexual health education is a district priority, which now has its own line item in the annual budget.

“Over the past few years, sexual health education has been identified by both parents and the district as a priority and, as a result, the district has made a strong commitment to supporting sexual health education by providing resources, which are included in the budget as a line item,” she told Decafnation via email.

Trustees approved the district’s 2020 budget June 25. But in its final form, the district proposes to spend about 30 percent less on sexual health education than in previous years when it contracted delivery of the curriculum to an outside expert, Dr. Claire Vanston of Nanaimo.

The district has 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. The budget notes that the educator position is tenuous and reviewable annually.

In contrast, according to a report prepared for SD71 in January 2018 by former superintendent Clyde Woolman, the district had paid Vanston, a private sexual health education professional, approximately $35,800 the previous year to teach students directly.

Of that amount, $25,000 came from district funds, and the remainder from grants which Vanston applied for herself.

The Comox Valley DPAC Sexual Health Committee members say they were underwhelmed by the district’s financial commitment to it in next year’s budget, despite widespread support of parents in the district.

Brooke Finlayson at Brooklyn Elementary’s garden area

Brooke Finlayson, a member of the committee, acknowledges the new budget line items and says the addition highlights the need for increased and sustained funding of the sexual health program in SD 71.

“This is a nuanced area of education, one that requires an educator with specific knowledge of the subject matter, understanding of the ever-changing trends and the impacts that online use is having on children’s health and safety,” she told Decafnation.

The committee would like to see a full-time district liaison who would oversee sexual health program delivery and promote consistency in sexual health education between all schools.

Other districts, such as Nanaimo, have already taken this approach with a full-time sexual health educator.

She says parents also want sexual health taught to students in grades 11 and 12 at all the secondary schools.

“Parents have raised concerns about the district’s past patchwork approach to sexual health education where students at some schools received more lessons in sexual health education than in other schools,” Finlayson told Decafnation. “It is important that does not continue.”

 

From the district’s perspective

School District 71 Superintendent Dean Lindquist says sexual health education is not just a priority for public schools, “I’d say it’s a priority for society.”

But, he also says, the word ‘priority’ means different things to different people.

“We have parents who want more sexual health education, and other parents who think the schools are superseding the parental role … We have to pay attention to those who don’t want us to teach sexual health education,” he told Decafnation. “Our response is to try to balance those perspectives.”

The district Parents Advisory Council committee on sexual health education wonders how many parents have actually spoken against sexual health education.

There is no defining data, but the results of the district’s recent strategic planning survey, which was released last Friday, shows no responses urging the district to cutback on sexual health education. By comparison, there are more than 100 responses asking the district for more classroom time on the topic.

Still, the issue isn’t about dollars and cents, according to Lindquist, it’s about the content of teaching.

“I don’t want to get into dollars here and dollars there. At the end of the day it’s not the cost of the program that’s important, it’s the delivery,” he said. “It’s important that teachers understand the content and what we’re doing.”

In reference to the parents request for a full-time district resource person, Lindquist said he didn’t see the benefit.

“What would this person do? We’re trying to build system capacity, not something that disappears with one person,” he said. “There are 1,000 ways to fix any problem. Just because I don’t pick your way doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.”

 

More potential improvements coming?

At this week’s school board meeting, 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.

The decision to implement any of Shatz’s suggestion will be considered by district senior leadership in the fall. When the board of trustees approved the 2019/2020 budget, they allocated money for sexual health education, but the board does not decide who is brought in for professional development or how the curriculum is implemented.

Shatz said she consulted with school principals and vice-principals about how to spend the money trustees put in the 2020 budget for sexual health education.

— Contract Dr. Vanston four hours per month throughout the school year to provide consultation regarding critical issues and resources;

— Use the remainder of the FTE equivalent (dollars) to provide release time to those teachers who are in need of training and to purchase and update resources as necessary;

— That we re-establish our relationship with our community partners, Island Health in particular to provide expert consultation and possible sessions to our students;

— That we design a learning series for grade 11 and 12 students outside of the curriculum regarding issues of consent, digital safety and preparing for life after high school; and

— Invite Dr. Vanston to present at the 2020 teacher Professional Development day.

The recommendations came as a surprise — albeit a pleasant one — to the District Parent Advisory Council (DPAC).

Shannon Aldinger, who chairs the DPAC sexual health committee, and Finlayson said they were pleased with Shatz’s recommendations, especially to extend some sexual health education into Grades 11 and 12, and to crease further learning opportunities for teachers.

But both were also disappointed that Shatz didn’t go 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 via email.

She said if the district approves these recommendations, it would represent significant progress and be “highly commendable.”

“That said, I am disappointed that the funding to do so would be drawn from the stated .2 position rather than another source such as learning resources (which was the source of funding for sexual health in previous years), particularly given that there has been no increase in funding for sexual health from previous years,” Aldinger said.

Finlayson echoed those comments.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that we won’t have an actual point person for the .2 FTE … but things move slowly around here and this is more than we’ve ever had,” Finlayson said via email. “This initiative was truly parent-driven and we’ve earned that, at least.”

Superintendent Dean Lindquist said the district frequently makes recommendations for all of its educational programs.

“These recommendations specifically were in response to the Board of Education’s request to ensure we continue to build capacity with our sexual health education curriculum,” Lindquist told Decafnation via email. “They reflect the observations made by Dr. Claire Vanston, the input shared from the Parent Advisory Councils, and the feedback from our educators.”

Board of Trustees Chair Janice Caton said the recommendations were reflective of what the district has heard about about providing continuing sexual health education.

“The board of education absolutely supports the need to provide students a strong education on sexual heath and consent, and we will continue to work with our parents, educators and other districts in BCSTA to advocate for the Ministry of Education to include consent in the BC curriculum,” Caton told Decafnation.

Next: Why do parents want sexual health education to be extended to Grades 11 and 12? And, sexual harassment and other dangers confronting students and worrying parents of teenagers in School District 71.

This article was updated to correct that trustees do not vote to approve recommendations on how program money is spent once the budget is approved. That is a consideration for district administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexual health is a key component of overall health, well-being, and quality of life. It is a major determining factor in the well-being of individuals, partners, families, and communities. Furthermore, the sexual health of people in Canada has important social and economic implications for the country. Therefore, the development and implementation of comprehensive sexual health education aimed at enhancing sexual health and well-being and preventing outcomes that negatively impact sexual health should be a public policy priority.

— 2019 Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Eduction

GOALS OF SEXUAL HEALTH EDUCATION

The goal of comprehensive sexual health education is for all people to gain the skills and knowledge required to maintain healthy bodies, healthy relationships, a healthy body image and to know what to do in unsafe situations.

— Sexual Information Education Council of Canada

Quality sexual health education has a direct impact on preventing negative outcomes, and promoting positive ones.

— McCreary Centre Society, BC Adolescent Healthy Survey

WHAT IS SEXTING?

Sexting involves creating, sending, receiving or sharing sexual messages, images and/or videos using the Internet and/or electronic devices. Commonly these types of messages are intended only for the recipient; however, the sender has little control over these messages becoming public. It is illegal to produce, possess or distribute naked or sexually explicit pictures and/or videos of young people under 18 years of age.

— RCMP

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More Education | Sexual Health

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