Complaints about sexual health brochures prompts school district review

NANAIMO – Complaints spur review of sexual health materials presented to students.

Nanaimo school officials are reminding administrators to review in advance all content that outside presenters will deliver to students after hearing complaints about materials some students at Wellington Secondary School received recently.

On Jan. 31, Grade 8 students attended three rotating presentations as part of the personal health and planning curriculum, including one on sexual health delivered by AIDS Vancouver Island facilitators.

Donna Reimer, school district spokeswoman, said the day after the presentation, a parent phoned to complain about a pamphlet on oral sex her child brought home and then this week, another parent went to the media complaining about a flip book with a cartoon illustration of a woman putting a condom on a man and then having sex with him. The book was given to the student as a prize during one of the AVI presentations.

Reimer believes school administrators, who didn’t know about the book, would have deemed it inappropriate for that age group.

“I think it was maybe a miscommunication thing,” she said.

As for the first complaint, Reimer said an administrator attended the first of AVI’s three presentations that day and did not see any inappropriate material, but later on, the administrator saw the oral sex pamphlet and removed it. The school then sent home an apology to parents.

Sexual health is an important part of the curriculum and before a presentation, parents are informed so they have the option of pulling out their child or asking for more information, said Reimer.

She said the district tries to strike a balance between giving students the information they need for their health in an age-appropriate manner versus ensuring whatever material they are given is what most parents would be comfortable with.

“It is up to each school to decide what material is appropriate,” said Reimer. “We want to make it clear that sexual health is an important part of the curriculum for students, but schools and presenters need to be clear on what information is being distributed to students.”

Eric Berndt, a spokesman for AIDS Vancouver Island, said the organization has distributed these materials in the school system for a number of years, but it is not simply handed to students.

They are distributed in class, after a facilitator talks to students about a range of options from abstinence to using condoms, he said, and when youth are provided with this information, they are more likely to delay their first sexual encounter and/or use safer sex materials.

Berndt said students seem to respond well to the materials that the parents objected to, which is important in terms of the information having an impact on students, but the group is happy to talk with the district and come to a consensus on what can be distributed to students.

“We’re definitely willing to talk with the school board and comply with their wishes and guidelines around the materials brought into the school,” he said.

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