Third-party sex-ed organizations barred from Saskatchewan schools

Troy Fleece/Regina Leader-Post. Education Minister Dustin Duncan speaks at the Legislative Building on Thursday, March 9, 2023 in Regina.

Under the new changes, parents and guardians must be informed about the sexual health education curriculum, and have the option to decline their children’s participation.

Trillian Reynoldson, Regina Leader-Post

Changes are coming to Saskatchewan schools, after a review of the province’s sexual health education.

Education Minister Dustin Duncan announced new parental inclusion and consent policies Tuesday, including the option for students to opt-out of sex-ed.

He said the changes are partly due to a controversy involving Planned Parenthood, which delivers educational programming on sexual health and contraception. The organization was suspended from schools in June after a student took home a set of ABC sex cards from PPR’s resources.

The province has announced parent/guardian consent will now be required for students under 16 to change their pronouns or their name to affirm their gender identity at school. Consent is not required for students over the age of 16.

All school boards must also immediately pause involvement with any third-party organization connected to sex education while reviewing educational resources. Only teachers, or professionals employed by government ministries or the Saskatchewan Health Authority, will be allowed to present sexual education materials in classrooms.

Duncan said teachers are trained to deliver the curriculum, and school divisions must provide support to the teachers and ensure they are comfortable delivering the curriculum.

“Certainly the direction is that teachers are to provide the curriculum, to implement the curriculum, to teach the course,” he said.

“The ministry has met with Planned Parenthood twice, Planned Parenthood themselves have expressed an interest in perhaps moving away from classroom delivery of material.”

Planned Parenthood Regina executive director Julian Wotherspoon previously said she felt the minister’s involvement in the suspension in June was a heavy-handed response to what is typically “localized” interaction with schools.

Reacting to the announcement Tuesday, she said the limitations have “halted progress” that was being made in providing evidence-based sexual and reproductive health information.

“What we are routinely hearing from educators is that they just don’t have the training, the tools or the comfort level with the material to be able to do that,” Wotherspoon said, questioning what the ministry’s plan to provide supportive resources to teachers, in time for the coming fall semester in just over a week, looks like.

“I don’t think this gives educators enough time to decide how they’re going to react in the classroom when they’re faced by queer and trans students who are being put in an incredibly unsafe situation by a policy like this.”

Now, under the new changes, parents and guardians must be informed about the sexual health education curriculum, and have the option to decline their children’s participation.

“That’s one thing that we’ll be working on with the school divisions,” Duncan said.

“There will be attempts for the student to essentially obtain the curricular outcome, maybe not in the classroom setting.”

Duncan added parents should be involved in their children’s education, and talking to their own kids about “sensitive subjects like sex-ed.”

According to the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute, Saskatchewan has the highest rate of live births from adolescent pregnancies in Canada, excluding the Canadian territories. Duncan said adolescent pregnancies is a difficult subject.

“I think it’s a larger issue than whether or not a kid has taken sex-ed class or not,” he said

“Whether or not their parents have opted out, I think it’s a bigger discussion than that. Frankly that’s why I think parents need to frankly step up and be more involved in it.”

Duncan said while all of Saskatchewan’s school divisions had policies dealing with these matters, they varied from one division to another.

“It was important to standardize these policies and ensure consistency of parental inclusion, no matter where your child goes to school.”

Opposition leader Carla Beck called the new policy “reckless, cynical and divisive politics” that will put vulnerable students at greater risk in classrooms.

She said the NDP supports parental involvement in schools, but this is the government introducing “calculated policy to solve their own problems” politically, which she called “thinly-veiled.”

“We don’t support outing kids and putting them at greater risk,” she said. “It’s disturbing, it’s frustrating, I don’t have the adjectives to describe this.

“With all the things the minister could and should be focused on, mental health of kids, he chooses to focus on something that will make those things worse.”

— with files from Larissa Kurz, Alec Salloum