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Ontario Premier Doug Ford repealed a modernized version of that province’s sexual health curriculum causing students to walk out of class in protest.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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Comox Valley parents leading BC schools toward expanded sexual health education

Comox Valley parents leading BC schools toward expanded sexual health education

Stock photo by Kylli Kittus on Unsplash

Comox Valley parents leading BC schools toward expanded sexual health education

By George Le Masurier

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

A couple of generations ago, it was controversial for elementary and high school teachers to talk to students about “the birds and the bees.” Only a handful of British Columbia school districts dared to offer locally developed programs. Even as recent as the early 1980s, many school boards were banning or limiting sex education because trustees still considered it the sole perorgative of parents.

Times have changed, and so has the public’s mood.

There’s a general acceptance today that sexual health education needs to be part of our public schools’ core curriculum. It’s being driven in large part by the ever-increasing student exposure to online and social media dangers through technology, as well as disconcerting trends toward increased sexual violence among teenagers.

A University of Calgary study published last week 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, the study involving 42,000 participants determined that sexting is linked to teenage anxiety, depression and substance use.

Also last week, the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada released its first revision since 2008 of the Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education. The major change found in the new guidelines is the addition of technology, LGBTQ12S+ and ‘consent’ as foundational education pillars, issues that weren’t on the radar of previous generations of students and parents.

But these are the issues that have motivated and mobilized a growing number of Comox Valley public school parents to press School District 71, and the provincial Ministry of Education, for a more robust and relevant curriculum for sexual health education.

In fact, Comox Valley parents are leading British Columbia in this direction. They have recently received unanimous support from parents across the province’s school districts, and their efforts have earned the ear of BC Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equality Mitzi Dean and BC Education Minister Rob Fleming.

Shannon Aldinger

Courtenay Lawyer Shannon Aldinger is one of the parents who has been advocating for better sexual health education (SHE) in Comox Valley schools. She represents the Ecole Puntledge Park Elementary Parents Advisory Council at the District Parents Advisory Council (DPAC), and chairs that group’s select committee on sexual health education.

Last month, Aldinger presented a resolution to the BC Conference of Parent Advisory Councils annual general meeting that urged the Ministry of Education to expand the BC sexual health curriculum to Grades 11 and 12 — it currently ends at Grade 10 — and to include the concept of consent as well as modern tech issues, such as the risks associated with sexting and online pornography.

The resolution was passed unanimously by the 205 parent delegates to the AGM, representing 42 of the province’s 60 school districts, including seven Comox Valley schools represented at the AGM. Four other SD71 schools supported the resolution but were not eligible to vote.

It was a landmark moment for expanding sexual health education in BC.

The vote of support from 70 percent of all BC school districts not only pushes sexual health education toward a richer and more relevant curriculum, it also shines a positive light on almost two years of advocacy work by Comox Valley parents for better sexual health education in SD71.

“The clear message from the conference is that parents across BC, including PACs across our district, including all three of our secondary school PACS, support these requests,” Aldinger told Decafnation.

Passage of the resolution denotes a major victory for sexual health education improvements at the BC level, which parent advocates hope will trickle down to individual districts.

Two weeks ago, Aldinger made a similar presentation for expanded sexual health education in the BC curriculum to the province’s Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services during its 2020 budget consultations, and won support from Parliamentary Secretary Mitzi Dean.

“To be in an age where we can have somebody like you who can come and talk about such an area that is really quite taboo and to come and present such a well-researched and comprehensive proposal, I really welcome it. And you have my commitment to taking this forward,” Dean said after Aldinger’s presentation.

 

Background of sexual health education in SD71

Since 2010, School District 71 has relied on an outside consultant, Dr. Claire Vanston of Nanaimo, to design and implement its sexual health education program. But in mid-2017, Vanston announced she would no longer provide this service beyond the 2019 school year.

In partial response to Vanston’s impending departure, and also to address parent requests for an expanded program, School District 71 commissioned former superintendent Clyde Woolman in December of 2017 to report on the state of sexual health education in Comox Valley schools.

In his report dated Jan. 16, 2018, Woolman discusses a wide variety of issues. Among them is whether teachers at the time were actually teaching sexual health.

According to Woolman, when the district hired Vanston as its outside sexual health educator, most teachers regarded her as the primary program delivery vehicle, and assumed they did not have to teach the material themselves. Woolman’s report says Vanston also believed teachers held that perception.

It’s a misconception that School District 71 Superintendent Dean Lindquist acknowledges.

“We’d relied on an expert to the point where we weren’t teaching it,” Lindquist told Decafnation. “We wouldn’t do that in math or the sciences. I then realized we had no capacity (to teach sexual health education). I had assumed teachers were teaching the curriculum and Dr. Claire was functioning as a resource.”

So the district shifted gears. During the current 2019 school year Vanston did not teach the material to students directly. Instead, she focused on coaching teachers to teach the SHE curriculum, and then reviewed their progress.

She has also provided the district with lesson plans and other resources. Her contract with the district ended this month.

“We have been building capacity in the last year,” Lindquist said. “We have amazing teachers in this district and I have faith they will do it (teach sexual health) well, and already are. It would blow your socks off what our teachers are doing.”

Aldinger agrees. She says Comox Valley teachers have received good training and support this past year and are doing a good job with the new material.

“We (the district PAC sexual health committee) hope that the district will continue to support the teachers with additional training opportunities and resources each year,” she said.

The DPAC committee also hopes the district will bring in external speakers for presentations that teachers may not be comfortable teaching, such as the interplay between sexuality and technology, including the risks associated with sexting and adolescent use of online pornography.

Confidence about teaching sexual health — a topic that requires sensitivity and up-to-date language usage — varies among teachers.

Woolman reported that Comox Valley classroom teachers have had no specific training in sexual health education, and most would feel uncomfortable “and even vulnerable” discussing sexual issues.

“While it may be that a few Physical Health Education teachers may feel reasonably competent and comfortable teaching the health material … the vast majority of PHE teachers will not,” Woolman said in last year’s report.

 

Improvements made this year

At the time of the Woolman report, the school district only funded sexual health education for grades 1, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10, and sometimes for only 60 minutes per year. And, in previous years, grade 1 students received no sexual health education.

In response, individual school Parent Advisory Councils had been doing their own fundraising to pay for additional sexual health education time or to cover the topic in the other grades.

But in this last year, according to Vanston, roughly 90 percent to 95 percent of SD71 students now receive sexual health classes every year from kindergarten through grade 10.

“The increase in students receiving sexual health education in our district is a significant improvement from past years,” Aldinger said.

Next: Has SD71 made sexual health education a priority?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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