News / Edmonton

'Irresponsible': Educators slam Catholic superintendents' abstinence-only curriculum

The Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta is working on a parallel human sexuality curriculum

Pride Centre Executive Director Kristy Harcourt.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Pride Centre Executive Director Kristy Harcourt.

Sexual health educators are criticizing Alberta’s Catholic superintendents for developing their own abstinence-based sex ed curriculum.

The Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta is working on a parallel human sexuality curriculum, as the council anticipates touchy subjects making their way into the provincial government's curriculum rewrite.

Documents outlining the parallel curriculum – which were obtained by the Edmonton Journal through a freedom of information request and made public Monday – list consent, contraception, same-sex relationships, anal and oral sex, and masturbation among topics that would be problematic to teach in Catholic schools.

“Sex ed really should be comprehensive, should be fact-based, should be inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions,” said Brian Parker, a counsellor and educator with the Compass Centre for Sexual Health.

“From these documents, it definitely wouldn’t be. When we only talk about abstinence, that is irresponsible.”

The Pride Centre of Edmonton’s Executive Director Kristy Harcourt took particular exception to a section about “Modern Gender Theory,” which states, “Gender and gender identity are always linked to one’s natal birth or birth sex.”

“It seems that they are suggesting that some of the things that would be problematic are acknowledging the reality of diversity in the community,” Harcourt said, adding it seems to not acknowledge that transgender people exist.

“I know that there are children who are Catholic and who are transgender,” she said.

The Pride Centre and the Compass Centre both belong to the Sexual Health Educators Collective of Edmonton, which recently started offering comprehensive sex ed classes in Edmonton Public Schools.

The superintendent council’s executive director Jamie McNamara said the parallel curriculum would be taught in addition to the provincial health and wellness curriculum, which all schools are required to teach.

“There are some components of the (provincial) curriculum that may not be congruent with some of the teachings of the Catholic church,” McNamara said.

He said the Catholic curriculum is being developed by a committee of superintendents and “religious education consultants.”

The council applied for a provincial grant for the project in spring but was denied.

Education Minister David Eggen said in an e-mailed statement Monday that the documents, which became available Monday, are “unacceptable.”

“We are currently modernizing the curriculum and believe all students should have opportunities to learn about topics like healthy relationships, consent, and sexual education in age appropriate ways,” Eggen said.

“I’m deeply concerned to see it suggested that providing Alberta students with accurate information on these important topics is ‘problematic’ or that there’s something wrong with being gay. I can assure Albertans that, under our government, any curriculum changes will be inclusive of all students – no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.”

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