One never knows what awaits on the other end of a phone call from a community member. This past week, a distraught parent called to inform us that their child, in grade 7, had been a victim of unwanted advances from a community member. Fortunately, the student’s brother interceded before the student was harmed. The parent’s intention in notifying us was twofold. She wanted us to remind the community to have conversations with their children about “stranger danger” and that if anything happens to tell families directly. In this situation, the child disclosed that this was not a first offence for this community member. This parent also wanted our educators to have conversations with our student population about consent and ensuring that our students know that they have a voice and can say, “No!” and to go and get a trusted adult as soon as possible. I assured her that we would do both and we did. I notified the community and asked staff to ensure that they found an opportunity to have that all important conversation.
As I exited my office and made my way to the offices of our VPs to inform them of the phone call and our next steps, about ¼ of one of our grade 7 class was making their way into the main office. They were looking for a space to read, as their parents had requested that they be exempted from the Human Development and Sexual Health unit.
I recall being in Toronto in August of 2019 when PPM 162 was released ~ This memorandum is the Exemption from Instruction related to Human Development and Sexual Health Expectations in the Ontario Curriculum: Health and Physical Education, Grades 1-8, 2019. The streets were lined with individuals with placards, criticizing the updated curriculum.
As a school board, we started to implement the procedures as outlined in the PPM (parameters associated with notification and exemptions). But as COVID became a reality and learning shifted to online for the next couple of years, exemptions were more easily implemented. Students simply did not join while the learning within that Health strand was occurring. Educators were concerned as they truly believe that all students need to be exposed to all the expectations with the curriculum document.
Now that we’re back to in-person learning, we are navigating the paperwork and the supervision plan ~ all the while still deeply committed to believing that all students would benefit.
Back to the students in my office…. Ironically, the lesson that they were missing was focusing on:
explain the importance of having a shared understanding with a partner about the following: delaying sexual activity until they are older; the reasons for not engaging in sexual activity; the concept of consent, the legal age of consent, and how consent is communicated; and, in general, the need to communicate clearly with each other when making decisions about sexual activity in a healthy, loving relationship.
The objectives within this expectation are exactly what this parent was asking us to do ~ and yet ¼ of our families (in this case) are intentionally withdrawing their children from class.
As we continue to grow as a school community, my hope is that we can strengthen our conversations with our families to ensure that they truly understand the intent of the learning and the importance of having their children exposed to these concepts by a caring, compassionate educator. I believe that so much of this comes down to trust. We want our families to trust that we can effectively and respectfully teach these concepts without undermining any religious or cultural beliefs.
Would love to know how your school is navigating PPM 162.
Come write with me…