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Vancouver school board, conservative activist tussle over sex-ed program at Lord Byng

JOANNE LEE-YOUNG, Postmedia Network

Kari Simpson, president of the group Culture Guard, speaks to the trustees and officials at the meeting of the Vancouver School Board to regarding the banning of terms like “homophobia” in schools and other issues February 07, 2012. (Ian Lindsay/Postmedia)

Kari Simpson, president of the group Culture Guard, speaks to the trustees and officials at the meeting of the Vancouver School Board to regarding the banning of terms like “homophobia” in schools and other issues February 07, 2012. (Ian Lindsay/Postmedia)

The Vancouver school board and a conservative activist are tussling over “Sex at Lunch”, a voluntary program at Lord Byng Secondary School for students in Grades 10 to 12 that sexual education advocates say is unique, inclusive and engaging.

The program is “not mentioned on the regular school calendar events listing that are published on the school’s calendar,” according to a statement filed Tuesday by Kari Simpson on her Culture Guard website.

Simpson included details of a session in mid-June that she attended and from which she recorded and posted excerpts online. There was a quiz show-like format, she said, where students and teachers competed to answer a series of “sexually charged questions” such as “if you don’t want to masturbate, what should you eat for breakfast? Answer: Cornflakes or rice crackers — “both invented as anti-masturbation foods.”

“If an adult neighbour or relative were caught inviting children to watch porn, discuss masturbation and engage in sex talk about people dressing up in animal costumes to enjoy sex, that person would be arrested. Being a teacher and engaging in this conduct within the school does not immunize that conduct,” said Simpson.

Last week, the Vancouver school board asked Simpson to take down her posts, “as your recording of the presentation constitutes an unlawful collection of personal information, and your posting of images from it, an unlawful use and disclosure of that information. As well, you were aggressively handing out pamphlets to students on school property, without authorization, and containing content that is discriminatory and offensive.”

The board, working with a police department liaison officer, issued a ban prohibiting Simpson from being on the school’s property.

Ellen Roberts, the school board’s Director of Instruction said its: “non-discrimination policy was supplemented in 2004 with a specific policy and regulation regarding sexual orientation and gender identities. The policy was revised in 2014 to add clarity, update language and provide guidance to school staff on how to help Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Two-Spirit, Queer, students feel safe and comfortable in their schools.”

Simpson said the quiz show questions didn’t address sexually transmitted diseases. “Not one question addressed the mental health issues related to promiscuity. Not one question related to abstinence.”

Saleema Noon, a Vancouver-based sexual health educator who does workshops with students and teachers in elementary and high schools across B.C., said it’s likely that teachers were using humour to get teens talking. “When I teach in elementary schools, I ask the kids ‘how heavy are the heaviest testicles in the world?’ They lighten up. You get them laughing. And this helps us show how talking about sex does not have to be scary or always serious.”

Noon said when she teaches children in primary classes, she invites parents with questions to an information session. She said sex education is mandated by the province for all students up to Grade 10, and described the lunch-hour program at Lord Byng as being voluntary and distinctive because “especially in high schools, sex education after Grade 10 can be hit or miss.”

“The teachers (at Byng) recognize the kids need information,” said Noon. “The (school board) program consulted with Options for Sexual Health, which is a member of Planned Parenthood, which is the biggest non-profit sexual health care organization.”

“When my stepdaughter went to Point Grey (Secondary School in Vancouver), I was feeling a little unsettled about what they might be getting in sex ed class, so I set up a meeting with the counsellor. I fully support parents advocating for kids.”

jlee-young@postmedia.com