Teen Ousts District’s Abstinence-Only Sex Ed. Program

By Ross Brenneman — July 14, 2014 2 min read
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A Canadian teenager’s complaint about the quality of her sex-education class has led her district to find a new curriculum.

Last summer, Emily Dawson, then a 17-year-old from Edmonton, Alberta, enrolled in her school’s mandatory health course. While attending, though, she discovered that the segment of the class pertaining to sex education had information provided to it by the Pregnancy Care Centre, a Canadian organization affiliated with the U.S. group Care Net, both of which are religiously affiliated and anti-abortion.

Dawson told CBC News that the speaker in her class misled students about contraception and sexually transmitted infections. And, according to the Edmonton Journal, the speaker also threw in some slut shaming for good measure. Parents need to give permission for students to be present for sex education, but once that permission is given, the course is required—in short, Dawson wasn’t allowed to withdraw.

Now, she and her mother, Kathy, have filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, which has accepted it. On Friday, the district announced the school would explore new programs for the fall. The Dawsons nevertheless plan to pursue their complaint.

Edmonton’s Superintendent, Darrel Robertson, said recently that, after first being presented with complaints about the district’s sex-education program earlier this year, he sent two district employees—a registered nurse and a principal—to observe PCC’s presentation on sex education. They reportedly said it met the district’s standards “on every level.”

While the Pregnancy Care Centre says it leaves religion out of its presentations, that doesn’t mean that it does the same for any pregnant or sexually active students who might end up in one of its offices. Its website is unspecific in regard to facts about sexual health, with most pages offering vague suggestions to contact one of its clinics to discuss an individual’s needs.

The PCC does get more specific on its blog, where it unabashedly aligns itself with Christianity. Here’s part of a post entitled, “What God gives, God takes care of”:

The day she intended to purchase flights to the abortion clinic, Seta picked up her Bible for daily devotions. She flipped it open, asking 'what is God saying to me today? What would God say to me regarding the purchase of tickets for an abortion?'

We could at least guess what the PCC would say.

Also, leaving religion out of a lesson presentation doesn’t have any correlation with whether students will think it’s appropriate. Last April, a West Virginia high school gained some notoriety when students there protested an assembly with Pam Stenzel, a self-identified Christian speaker who, despite a secular presentation, reportedly shamed students for having sex and supplied incorrect information about birth control.

In a Friday note on the Edmonton district’s Facebook page (the new realm for public relations), Robertson announced the district would be having teachers explore other sex-education programs in the fall, and would solicit feedback about what kind of program would work best:

“We want our students to feel free to ask questions without fear of shame or discrimination. We want them to have all the knowledge they need to make healthy personal choices and decisions. That is, and always will be, our goal.”

Image: Thomas Cole’s indelible “The Garden of Eden,” (1828) improved by Photoshop. Credit: Ross Brenneman

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.