Edmonton Catholic trustee calls for updated safe sex education for students

Edmonton Catholic trustee calls for updated safe sex education for students

An Edmonton Catholic Schools trustee wants to see the provincial sex education curriculum revamped to teach students about safe sex.

Marilyn Bergstra is bringing a motion to Tuesday's board meeting to support a review of the provincial curriculum to focus on consent and contraception, as well as programming tailored to Indigenous students, LGBTQ students and students with mental and physical disabilities. 

"I'm not trying to promote promiscuity, but I am saying there is an outbreak of disease in relation to sexually transmitted infections in this city and across this province," Bergstra said. 

"Should kids find themselves in a situation where they're going to choose to be sexually active, what are the best practices to ensure that they reduce their risk?"

The most recently released statistics from Alberta Health point to a dramatic increase in at least two sexually transmitted infections: gonorrhea, of which there were 80 per cent more cases in 2015 than in 2014, and syphilis, of which there were 50 per cent more cases during that same time period.  

Focus on health

Bergstra, currently completing her master's degree in public health, recognizes her motion could be contentious among her colleagues. 

"I want the conversation to be: 'Yes, kids are at risk. Yes, there's an outbreak of infectious disease in this city. How do we promote the emotional health tied to sex? How do we provide the physical health related to sex? How do we ensure kids are ready?'" she said. 

As a Catholic trustee, Bergstra said she tries to balance faith with other important aspects of students' education, including academics and health and well-being. She said the gaps she sees in the sex-ed curriculum relate to scientific evidence, not religion.

Last month, a Catholic high school in Red Deer brought a pro-life group into a Grade 10 religion class. The presenter screened a controversial video that compared abortion to the Holocaust. 

Bergstra said she doesn't condone the comparison, but respects the right to have religious programming in religious classrooms in religious schools.

However, she reiterated that's not what her motion is trying to change. 

"We're talking right now about sex education that will be delivered as part of the health curriculum, and that is a fact-based curriculum. That is a science-based curriculum," she said. "To me, there is no: 'What should it be?' "

Bergstra said she thinks there needs to be discussions that include the Alberta Teachers' Association around who should deliver sex education in schools.

She said there are inconsistencies between jurisdictions, schools and even classrooms when it comes to teaching sex education.

"Whoever delivers the curriculum, they must be comfortable delivering the curriculum and they must be well-versed and have a comprehensive understanding themselves," she said. 

For example, Bergstra said she researched the efficacy of promoting abstinence as the sole option for birth control. 

"I could find no peer-reviewed data to suggest that the message of abstinence-only works. In fact, the data would suggest the opposite," she said. 

"I think we need to arm kids with facts, hope that they make decisions that are in their own best interests, but allow them to do so with knowledge, as opposed to a lack of knowledge."

The changes Bergstra is seeking would affect the curriculum at all schools in Alberta.