Toronto teacher suspended over explicit safe-sex poster, brochures featured in classroom

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

There's no question sexually explicit posters intended to caution adults in gay bars and bath houses about safe sex don't belong on the bulletin board of a junior high school classroom.

But the amount of puffed up indignation and partisan political bashing over the incident at a Toronto school seems over the top.

A teacher at Delta Alternative School in Toronto's Little Italy district has been suspended for posting the materials in classrooms used by Grade 7 and 8 students, the National Post reported.

The material, a poster and brochures, was part of an awareness campaign by the AIDS Committee of Toronto. The poster had an eye-grabbing phrase "If you like to f—" and included tips on how gay and bisexual men can practise safe sex, the Post said. The material included a picture of a man's partly exposed rear and advice on how to "use your head when giving it."

Principal Marc Mullan sent a letter home to parents of the school's 63 students on Tuesday saying he was made aware of the poster last Friday and that "the material was taken down immediately," according to the Post.

[ Related: Critics slam Toronto school gender-tolerance posters as promoting polygamy, cross-dressing ]

A spokesman for the Toronto District School Board said the teacher has been suspended pending a review by the board.

"This is clearly inappropriate," said Ryan Bird. "It crosses a line."

Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals has weighed in, endorsing the teacher's removal from the classroom.

“The materials that are being used are totally inappropriate and are in no way connected to the Ontario health and phys ed curriculum,” Sandals said, according to the Toronto Star.

The incident was “of great concern not just to me but obviously of great concern to parents," the minister added.

That's fine, except for one thing. This material was up on the classroom bulletin board since last October. Seven months. And no one said anything?

QMI Agency reported the school board's investigation includes the role of Principal Mullan and his administrators. Mullan insists he knew nothing about the material. School principals appear to be less sharp-eyed than when I went to school.

At least one parent knew about it. Eric Mackey, who has two children at the school and is also co-chair of the school's council, told the Post he saw the poster earlier in the year during a routine visit to the classroom.

“I stood there and looked at it and thought, ‘This is great,’” said Mackey. “I personally am very comfortable with this poster on the wall. And my children are comfortable with it.

When the poster was put up in October, it was accompanied with a discussion where children were told that “if anybody has a hard time with this, it will be taken down," Mackey told the Post.

In his role on the school's council, Mackey said he was never informed anyone had a problem with the poster and brochures.

"No teacher, no child, no parent has said a word about it. I guess I’m a little surprised that all of a sudden everybody’s outraged,” he said. “We’re talking about teenagers that use that sort of language."

That seems like quite a sensible perspective. Putting up material intended for adult men in a classroom might be pushing the envelope. But teens living in downtown Toronto, presumably with access to the Internet, probably wouldn't be too shocked. No student complained to his or her parents.

That hasn't stopped critics from puffing themselves up over the incident.

Beside's Sandals' reaction, the provincial Conservatives' education critic, Lisa MacLeod, said the fact the teacher felt free enough to display the material reflected the Liberal government's cozy relationship with teachers' unions.

"Enough is enough," MacLeod vented to QMI Agency. "The Toronto District School Board clearly is out of control when it comes to this — this is not the first time something like has occurred there — and I think the government really has to put their foot down and make it known that that type of material is unacceptable."

She also attacked a school board spokesman for ascribing good intentions to to the teacher.

[ Related: Toronto parents want to pull kids from class when ‘sensitive’ subjects arise ]

"Someone at the Toronto District School Board ought to be fired," MacLeod said.

The Toronto school board has been under fire for some time from critics who see it as too liberal-minded on subjects such as sex.

The Star noted Rev. Charles McVety of the Canadian Christian College criticized the board last fall because its web site had links to material that encouraged the use of vegetables during sex play.

McVety also took issue with a poster campaign that used three stick figures inside a heart to encourage acceptance of same-sex relationships. The reverend said it promoted three-way sex.