Kathy Dawson and her 18-year-old daughter, Emily, filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission regarding an abstinence-based sex-ed presentation in her Career and Life Management Course at McNally High School. The Dawsons reported the presentation as shocking, scientifically inaccurate, and rooted in Christian doctrine.
The Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre has presented the abstinence program in the Edmonton Public School Board since 2006 with 30 presentations annually. The EPSB suspended the presentation claiming that although presentations met “standards and expectations on every level,” they were “becoming very divisive.”
Dawson said her daughter’s rights were violated and demanded sexual education beyond abstinence teachings. “I’m a strong believer in sex-ed. I think that it provides skills for the kids as they head out into the adult world and to make adult choices,” she said. In an interview, Emily said there was no discussion regarding the use of multiple contraceptives at a time for combined protection during sexual intercourse and that condoms were presented as being ineffective.
Dawson also took issue with the presentation showing scientific views of human life beginning at conception. “I personally don’t believe that eggs are life. I don’t believe zygotes are life. The beginning of life is actually a philosophical and religious question,” she said.
The program called “WAIT! Let’s Talk Sex!” focuses mainly on abstinence, and it being a healthy choice for teens. The PCC provides it free of charge whereas other sex-ed presenters sometimes charge more than $500 for their presentations. “We, in reality, recognize … that while abstinence is a good choice, it is not the only choice,” said Jutta Wittmeier, director of the Calgary PCC. “We talk about STIs, we talk about, to some degree, birth control. Obviously we want students to be as safe as possible.” Wittmeier said that the PCC is specifically invited to talk about abstinence, and that it only makes up a small portion of the larger Alberta sexual education curriculum.
Although PCC is based on Christian beliefs, “it’s not shared in the classroom. It’s not brought out in any way, shape or form,” said Norah Kennedy, director of the Edmonton Pregnancy Care Centre. “We are very respectful of all the students and the fact they come from different belief systems or no belief systems.”
Despite deciding to end the presentations, Superintendent Darrel Robertson wrote on the Edmonton Public School Board Facebook page that he had staff members, one of whom was a registered nurse, attend the presentation unannounced. He wrote that the “information was presented in a scientifically sound way and students were observed to be comfortable in sharing their thoughts and feelings.” Still, board spokeswoman Lisa Austin said the ban on using speakers from the pregnancy center would stay in place “indefinitely.”
The Dawsons filed a complaint alleging they suffered discrimination because of their single-parent status and agnostic beliefs. Kathy also filed a complaint that the school board violated her parental rights by refusing to allow her daughter’s removal from the presentation without academic penalty, under Section 11 of of Alberta’s Human Rights Act.
A post on the PCC website acknowledging the complaints against them included a letter from a citizen who shined light on writer Paula Simons who covered the story for the Edmonton Journal. He notes Simons’ involvement with the Society of Edmonton Atheists where she reportedly said, “I oppose anything that smacks of state-imposition of religion, or public policy grounded in religious ideology.”