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Discontinued religious textbooks mandatory in Edmonton Catholic elementary schools

Several Alberta teachers say Catholic schools in the province should pull the Fully Alive religious education resources, depicted here, out of classrooms. (Pearson Canada - image credit)
Several Alberta teachers say Catholic schools in the province should pull the Fully Alive religious education resources, depicted here, out of classrooms. (Pearson Canada - image credit)

Some Alberta Catholic educators are calling on their school divisions to stop using elementary-level religious textbooks they say are transphobic and negate LGBTQ people.

Education publisher Pearson Canada has stopped publishing a school resource series called Fully Alive, which covers topics such as identity, relationships, sexual health and community engagement from a Catholic perspective.

Created for students in Grades 1 to 8, the series includes a unit called, "Created sexual: male and female," which says there are two genders, and that gender identity is determined by a baby's anatomy at birth.

A committee of church and Catholic school leaders recommends Fully Alive for use in Alberta classrooms.

Teachers who say they are required to teach the material said the lessons favour families with a married mother and father and imply a woman's primary purpose is to feed her family and care for children.

Pearson Canada
Pearson Canada

The teachers said they have been asking large urban Alberta Catholic school boards for at least a year to stop using the resources. CBC has agreed not to name the teachers because they are worried about losing their jobs.

"Even just having that book in my room, it bothers me," said one Alberta teacher.

The teacher said she avoids using the resources in her classroom, even though it's mandated. She worries the material will leave children who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity or have an LGBTQ relative feeling ashamed and scared.

"Getting this [resource] pulled will make school so much safer and inclusive," said an Edmonton Catholic Schools teacher. That teacher said educators have vociferously opposed the resource within the division for at least a year.

University of Calgary education associate professor Tonya Callaghan, who studies the experiences of people who are LGBTQ in Catholic schools, says the books are a snapshot of the 1950s.

FRITZOLOGY INC
FRITZOLOGY INC

Callaghan, who authored the book Homophobia in the Hallways: Heterosexism and Transphobia in Canadian Catholic Schools, said Fully Alive sends harmful messages and should be immediately removed from schools.

She's thrilled Pearson has decided to stop producing and supporting the resource, even though the company hasn't said why. The news came after Ontario critics lobbied the publisher to stop making Fully Alive, which Catholic schools in that province also use.

Callaghan said refusing to acknowledge the existence of transgender and non-binary people can lead to mental health problems, self-harm and suicide.

"Those who are members of that community are told a very loud message that you don't matter," she said. "You don't even exist. We don't want to see you here. Go away, please."

A peer-reviewed Canadian study published last year found trans youth are five times more likely than their peers to think about suicide, and at least seven times more likely to attempt suicide.

The Catholic church teaches that men and women should only have a sexual relationship in a heterosexual marriage and that children should be conceived naturally or adopted. These teachings are reflected in versions of Fully Alive that CBC News found posted online.

Superintendents say parents expect Catholic family teachings

An Alberta Catholic education resource advisory committee is tasked with recommending books, videos and other material for Catholic schools in the province. The committee is made up of representatives for Alberta's bishops, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association, and the Council of Catholic School Superintendents of Alberta.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the organizations said the committee recommends Fully Alive for use in elementary classrooms to support curriculum and religious education — although, it's unclear when they made that decision.

"Parents choosing Catholic education expect that the presentation of a family life curriculum will reflect a Catholic view of human life, sexuality, marriage and family," the statement said.

Callaghan says that while parents or guardians may choose a Catholic school, many students don't have a say — nor is their sexual orientation or gender identity a choice.

Ryan Ledene, president of the Catholic superintendents' council, initially agreed to an interview, then postponed it on Friday until he could meet with other council leaders.

In an email, he said the association has received no negative feedback from Catholic parents or educators about Fully Alive.

Edmonton Catholic Schools leaders declined an interview this week. In an email, spokesperson Christine Meadows said the division had just learned of Pearson's decision to stop publishing the resources, and are reviewing it.

"As with all our curricula, the availability of resources often changes, which necessitates continuous review and decision-making for subsequent years," she wrote on Friday. "Given Pearson's decision, the process will be no different in this circumstance."

Meadows said using Fully Alive became mandatory for Grade 1 and 2 religious education teachers in the 2021-22 school year, and that expanded to Grades 3 and 4 this year. She said the program is only one of the resources teachers use in religious education.

But teachers who spoke to CBC said it's unusual for a school division to mandate a resource. They say that's typically left to the teacher's professional judgment.

One early years teacher, whose identity CBC is protecting for fear she could face professional consequences, said the books conflict with other lessons they deliver about equity and inclusion.

"I want us to be helping kids to feel safe and confident in who they are," the teacher said. "I worry that the work that we're doing to do that could be undermined by this."

Ron Zacharko, president of Edmonton Catholic Teachers local 54, said his association also told the school division in October members had concerns about Fully Alive. Now that the publisher has stopped production, Zacharko said the division should immediately review its use.

Meadows said the division has no knowledge of the association raising concerns in the fall.

Catholic school boards in Calgary and Fort McMurray did not respond to interview requests or emailed questions about whether they use Fully Alive. One Calgary Catholic teacher told CBC the division uses the books and thinks they should stop.

Emily Peckham, press secretary to Alberta's education minister, said in an email that school boards can choose their own curriculum and resources for religious education courses. Alberta Education has not approved or recommended Fully Alive for use in classrooms, she said.