A group of parents appeared before the Durham Region Roman Catholic Separate School Board (DSSB) May 22, to challenge a board policy which obliges children to attend sex education classes.

One of the fastest-growing areas in Ontario, Durham Region is located about 30 miles west of Toronto.

Director of Education, Dr. Earl J. Lagroix, maintained that the practice of not excluding students from classes wasn’t written policy, but simply an agreed-to-rule.

Closed doors

“It’s always been the practice. “I’ve been here since 1980 and it was the practice before that,” Dr. Lagroix told The Interim. He explained that the board re-affirmed the rule behind closed doors [in camera] when the board’s AIDS education program was introduced. “It should have been read in the open, and it wasn’t” Dr. Lagroix, added, “but it wasn’t to change anything that was already in practice.

But DSSB trustee Fred Jones takes issue wit this interpretation. “They voted in secret, and that’s contrary to board regulations,” he stated. He believes that the board pre-empted parent objections to the new AIDS and sex education programs by drafting a non-exclusionary policy in secret before the last municipal election.

Mr. Jones wants the non-exclusion issue discussed in public. “This should not be done in the bowels of the basement of the school board, making this policy in the dark which this board tends to do. It’s not a very open board,” he noted.

By making policy decisions in a surreptitious manner, the Durham board risks “adverse court orders and Charter challenges” from parents groups, he predicted.

The trustees agreed to refer the whole manner to the board’s policy committee. With the summer break, a decision on exemptions may not be rendered until the fall.

Health programs

Speaking on behalf of the parents concerned, Mrs. Jane Loder, a other of seven children ranging in age form 3 to 13, requested that parents have a choice, “as is their right, regarding the participation of their children in the ‘Fully Alive’ program she said, adding “this includes any of the other health programs that could compromise the spiritual and psychosexual well-being of their children.

‘Fully Alive’

The parents requested that the board explicitly recognize the right of parents to withdraw children from programs where sensitive issues of a sexual and moral nature were discussed in a classroom setting. The excused children should be provided with alternate teacher-supervised academic activities.

Introduced by many of Ontario’s Roman Catholic boards over the three years, ‘Fully Alive’ is a family life course developed jointly by the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops (OCCB) and Catholic boards of education. It includes a sex education component. The Fully Alive program spans the elementary school grades from one to sex; in Durham at present, it runs from grades 1 through 4.

More significantly, however, the program encompasses the years which psychologists call the latency period. During this time, the child’s sexual energies turn toward learning. For this reason, a leading U.S. psychiatrist Dr. Melvin Anchell characterizes classroom sex-ed as an anti-educational phenomenon. By the artificial arousal of sexual feelings and the damage to purity, he argues, the child loses much of his capacity to learn.

Undesirable effect

Mrs. Loder informed the trustees that her seven year-old daughter has herself asked to be excused from the program. “Mommy, I don’t want to be in ‘Fully Alive,’ Mrs. Loder reports her saying. “I don’t want to talk about penis and vagina, I want to do my school work. The boys laugh and act silly.”

Despite the gravity of Mrs. Loder’s remarks, one of the superintendents laughed and joked with his colleagues as she presented her brief.

By “mandating sex education in its schools, the Durham Separate School Board is exceeding the limits of its authority over the children entrusted to it, Mrs. Loder asserted. She backed up her argument by referring trustees to a 1977 Ontario Ministry of Education guideline and to Church teaching on the subject of sex education. Each, in their own way safeguard the fundamental right of parents to remove their children from school programs.

After failing to convince board officials of their legitimate right to withdraw their children form what they believe is an unsatisfactory program, the Loders wrote to Cardinal Edouard Gagnon, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

The Cardinal restated the constant teaching of the Church that “parents have the basic and inalienable right and duty to educate their own children.” On account of this original right, he explained, neither government of the Church “may legitimately mandate” that every student participate in a course, even though it may seem to be in the best interests of the child.

In the event that the text chosen for sex education is not in agreement with the moral and religious convictions of some parents, Cardinal Gagnon concluded, school authorities are obliged to support the parental decision to withdraw their children form the program.

When contrasted with Cardinal Gagnon’s uncompromising statement on Church teaching, the board’s policy is clearly authoritarian, to the “total exclusion of our parental rights,” Mrs. Loder contended. “Our children have been subjected to four months of this highly undesirable program against our wishes. How long must we wait to be granted our just rights?” she asked.

At least for now, it seems, Mrs. Loder and other parents who share her concerns, may have a long wait. “Parents who wish to fulfill their educational duty in moral and sexual matters can send their children to the secular school system,” Dr. Lagroix told The Interim. He rejected Cardinal Gagnon’s arguments with the phrase, “You’re quoting one Cardinal.” In his opinion, the matter of exemption from sex education/family life classes was settled. “What they’re suggesting is an impossibility.”