Sask. education minister calls for review into ministry of sexual education materials

Education Minister Dustin Duncan has ordered his ministry to review documents pertaining to the youth curriculum, and plans to direct school boards to suspend any upcoming presentations with Planned Parenthood Regina.

He announced the directives Thursday afternoon after being made aware that a Grade 9 student picked up graphic sex ed material left behind by Planned Parenthood after members of the organization presented it to their health class.

“The material in question — as Minister of Education, frankly as a parent — is completely inappropriate to be in a classroom,” Duncan told reporters Thursday.

“We want to make sure that material is not going to be a part of the resources that will be provided to students… I want to make sure that the Ministry of Education, also, is undertaking a review of our own information to ensure that it is appropriate — and age-appropriate in particular.”

Planned Parenthood, a sexual health clinic that offers community programming, among other things, visited Lumsden High School last Monday to present to a Grade 9 health class, a Prairie Valley School Division spokesperson told CBC News.

Planned Parenthood says the presentation was about contraception, consent, and sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections. The school division spokesperson says the presentation aligned with the curriculum.

the curriculum touches on many aspects of sexual health that teens ought to know, such as sexually transmitted infections and safe sex.

Planned Parenthood executive director Julian Wotherspoon told CBC News the presentation was vetted by the teacher, but they brought along other resources, such as pamphlets, that they would bring along to any other presentation. Those resources were left on a side table after the presentation.

One student picked up a copy of a card set titled Sex from AZ. The cards have cartoon illustrations and graphically explain various topics, including some identities and sexual acts.

A spokesperson from the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), the creator of the set, said the cards are to be a resource for gay, bisexual and queer young people aged 18 to 29, to make up for a lack of sexual education for non -heterosexual people.

The cards are to act as a guide to help youth stay safe while experimenting, the spokesperson said.

The letter 'B' hovers above the word 'bisexual.'
Sex from AZ is a card set that explains various topics based on the alphabet, such as bisexuality. (AIDS Committee of Toronto)

The school division and Wotherspoon each said the resource was unrelated to the actual presentation.

Duncan took issue with how explicit the cards were, reading several examples to reporters.

The division has followed up with Planned Parenthood, asking it to remove the resources from future school presentations. Wotherspoon said Planned Parenthood accepted the feedback and apologized to the school division for putting him in a difficult position.

Wotherspoon hopes people are still willing to refer to Planned Parenthood to help facilitate these types of conversations, she said.

She was disappointed that Duncan’s ministry didn’t contact Planned Parenthood directly, and instead announced the suspension through a news conference.

In a separate statement issued Friday, Planned Parenthood said it is looking forward to connecting with Duncan regarding sexual health education, the organization’s programming and the importance of holistic, evidence-based health education that engages Saskatchewan students.

Access to such content has many positives, including reducing the risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancies, and preventing mental health crises among LGBTQ youth, the statement said.

Opposition NDP Leader Carla Beck told reporters Friday that she hasn’t seen the cards in question yet, but based on what she has heard it seems they would have been inappropriate.

A woman in glasses stands in an office.
Opposition NDP leader Carla Beck said the suspension of Planned Parenthood presentations was an overreaction by Duncan. (Adam Bent/CBC)

She added, however, that the suspension is an overreach.

“There’s obviously the need to be teaching sexual health in schools. That should be done in an age-appropriate way. It should be following the curriculum, for sure. But this does seem to be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction on the part of the minister,” Beck said.

“Ensuring that those cards aren’t left at inappropriate grade levels, that’s reasonable. Pulling the programming from every school in the province seems like an overreach.”

MLA Nadine Wilson, leader of the Saskatchewan United Party, issued a statement on the matter, calling for the Saskatchewan Party government to apologize to the students and parents.

The suspension, Duncan said, will be in place until the ministry’s review is complete. There is no timeline, but he hopes it will be done before school begins in the fall.

The work will include examining the vetting process for presenters, and ensuring the resources and materials issued by the ministry itself are age-appropriate, he said.

Duncan also wants to find a way for schools to notify parents when sexual education is going to be taught to students and what will be covered, so they have a say in how their children are taught, he said.

Cecilia Rands, a mother with two girls in the Regina Public Schools system, said she sent an email addressed to Duncan, and cc-ing Premier Scott Moe and several NDP caucuses, pleading with the minister to reconsider the suspension.

In an interview with CBC News, Rands described the suspension “childish and ignorant.”

She acknowledged the material in question was for a certain age group, but noted that it was published by a health organization for educational purposes and that youth can access — and may already have been exposed to — sexual content online.

“This was a Grade 9 health class. These children are 14 years old. While I am not saying that these materials necessarily need to be thrown in their faces, I’m also asking us all to be realistic about the average age at which a child is first exposed to pornography,” said Rands.

“Kids are doing these things, and if we’re not talking to them about it, they’re getting the information elsewhere.”

Rands referred to the age restrictions around things like alcohol and cigarettes, suggesting there are people who consume those products before they turn the legal age.

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