A group of concerned parents attended a School District No. 8 (Kootenay Lake) meeting on Tuesday evening in Creston to voice their anger about an explicit booklet called the Safer Sex Guide that was provided to an Erickson Elementary School Grade 6/7 health class as a resource on June 20.
The Safer Sex Guide available from CATIE (Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange) provides tips on how to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The booklet clearly states online and inside that the guide contains sexually explicit information and is meant for mature audiences.
“I’ve spoken to the president of CATIE, and he said that book is intended strictly for adults who have a STI or live with people who have a STI, so they can learn how to be safe,” said Terina Sandre a parent of one of the students. “He said; that the only reason that book was sent out was because it was ordered by the public hospital. Not the school. He said, if we would have known that that book was going near any elementary school, it would have been red flagged and never sent out to that hospital.”
In a letter to parents on June 21, principal Ken Wiens deemed the material to be inappropriate for the age group and apologized for not being more diligent in vetting the material beforehand.
“We will work together as a staff to ensure a similar incident does not happen in the future,” he said. “We are sorry that we put your child in a place where they had access to this material.”
A letter from Interior Health public health nurse Kayla Benson on June 21 to parents confirmed that the resource had not been reviewed before providing it as a resource to students.
“This is a new resource that we did not review completely before providing it to Mrs. [Carmen] Murphy to use as a further resource for the students,” she said. “Upon review, it was evident that there was some explicit language and content used that may not be appropriate for this age group.”
At Tuesday’s SD8 meeting, the school board recognized parents were distraught by the Safer Sex Guide and explained to parents that the school board does not have control over the health authority or the public health nurse.
SD8 Supt. Christine Perkins agreed with the concerns of the parents.
“The material was written for adults, by adults, the graphics and language are clearly for the 19 plus age group,” she said. “Up to this event, we have had implicit trust in our partnership with our local health care providers; unfortunately, at this moment, that has been broken.”
“We did receive an email in support of the program,” added Perkins. “Surprisingly, although the parents were kind of shocked that their conversation with their son was taking place earlier than usual, they wanted the board to know that as parents they had 100 per cent confidence in teacher Murphy, and were not upset about the situation at all. So there are diverse opinions.”
Perkins assured parents that in the future, all documents being offered to students by a third party will be thoroughly reviewed by both principal and classroom teacher before being distributed.
School trustee Al Gribbin was unsuccessful in asking for a motion to ensure that the school board brought appropriate professionals in to help with the situation.
“On Saturday I sent out a trustee inquiry on whether we intend to bring a professional in to assist those students and parents who have been exposed to this material,” he said. “I would like to put a motion on the table tonight at this board meeting that we do bring in the appropriate professionals to help these people who are obviously frustrated.”
Gribbin’s motion was denied and board chair Lenora Trenaman replied that it was not necessary because counselling would be available to students and parents if they requested it; however, it was unclear where and when the counselling service would take place with only one day of school left.
“Will a certified doctor, and RCMP officer speak with the children regarding the safe drug use techniques described in the book before school is out?” asked parent Velle Huscroft Weitman. “The book does not say that drugs are harmful. It teaches how to snort coke safely without contracting an STI. Where is the counselling going to be provided? Is it not going to be able to be provided through the school. School is out in two days. Where is it going to be provided? Is there going to be information sent home with the children so that the parents know where to go to get the counsel?”
“The superintendent has responded, and you will get whatever support we can possibly give you in trying to help mitigate some of the concerns,” responded Trenaman. “We can’t change it. We can’t turn the clock back.”
A PDF copy of the Safer Sex Guide can be downloaded at CATIE website.