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.
Read more at DecafNation.