Some parents at Twain Sullivan Elementary School in Houston are upset with the material covered by a public health nurse speaking to about 25 students in Grades 6 – 7.
The boys and girls received the instruction separately.
What was meant to be a discussion of puberty and healthy relationships, turned into a discussion of sexual positions and proper techniques to put a condom on, Amai Barden, a parent of two of the schoolchildren present during the classroom discussion, said.
“I trusted them [teachers],” Barden said of why she decided to allow her children to take part in the presentation.
Barden said it isn’t the discussion around puberty that had her and her children upset, but rather the material covered by the public health nurse in the last hour of a three-hour presentation.
‘Gross’ and ‘way too advanced’ is how her children described the latter part of the presentation, Barden said.
The mother of another child participating in the presentation, who wished to remain anonymous, was also upset with the information transmitted by the public health nurse.
The problem began following the presentation when the students were invited to ask questions.
Some of the questions were quite pointed and led the nurse to cover topics such as the proper technique of putting condoms on, to explain flavoured condoms were favoured for oral sex, some sexual positions and details of how homosexual men have sex.
Barden wondered why the teachers didn’t put an end to the questions when it went beyond the curriculum, beyond what the parents expected their children to learn.
David Margerm, principal at Twain-Sullivan school, explained the subject is a difficult one to teach partly because the students usually have varying degrees of knowledge on the topic and some may ask very pointed questions.
“There are going to be sensitive or controversial issues and it’s good to educate the kids, but it has to be balanced and it has to be appropriate,” Margerm said.
“When you have guest speakers it’s more difficult to control.”
The responsibility of dealing with questions and how to answer questions typically lies with the public health nurse.
“The teachers have become used to the health nurse being able to handle all of this stuff very effectively,” Margerm said.
However, this year, the public health nurse who typically delivers the presentation on puberty is on leave.
The nurse hired to fill in does have experience dealing with sex education, but with secondary-level students and not with elementary school students.
Usually, the classroom teachers and the public health nurse will consult each other prior to the presentation.
“Obviously there wasn’t enough,” Margerm said.
“We’re going to make sure there is a lot more consultation before.”
“Everybody’s learned a lesson, this will not happen again.”
The provincial curriculum concerning healthy living, for Grades 5 – 7, focuses primarily on the physical, emotional and social changes that accompany puberty, describing the human reproductive system, conception and how to reduce the risk of contracting communicable diseases, for example by avoiding unprotected sex.
School district assistant superintendent Michael McDiarmid agreed some of the material discusses was not prescribed under the Ministry of Education curriculum for healthy living.
“It appears there was some content that was intended for older students,” McDiarmid said.
“We contacted the school and the principal David Margerm contacted the parents just to let them know some of the content wasn’t age appropriate,” McDiarmid said.
“Everyone is going to be paying a lot more attention and being more thorough about how some of the content is presented and what is said.”
One parent did call Northern Health to complain about some of the material presented.
Northern Health communications officer Eryn Collins said staff were discussing with the school how to alleviate the concerns raised by the parent and in developing best practices to ensure a similar situation does not arise in the future.
“We’re taking this as an opportunity to learn,” Collins said.
“Challenges can come up when you’re dealing with questions from students.”
“But the point of being there is giving them correct and healthy information so they don’t try to Google the information.”
“It’s not really an option to not answer their questions, but the level of detail provided could be addressed so that it matches the maturity level of the students.”
Another point of discussion, Collins said, would be to consider providing more detail in the information letters sent to parents, such that not only are the topics to be covered indicated, but also the topics that could potentially be covered depending on questions that arise during the presentations.