The Montreal Catholic School Commission (MCSC) voted October 21 on the issue of installing condom dispensing machines in its high schools. The nays have it…but not by much.

The stormy, nine hour meeting was a media circus with reporter, a documentary film crew, health care professionals, parents and even a condom machine salesman in attendance. Commissioners were presented with a survey 711 parents which indicated 69% support for the optional installation of the machines. Two doctors spoke at length of high rates of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers and urged the board to adopt the proposal and develop effective sex education programs.

Political wrangling between the traditional Regroupment Scolaire Confessionel (RSC) party, which has th majority, and the opposition Mouvement pour une Ecole Moderne et Ouverte (MEMO) has carried on for a year and a half, through scandals and even provincial trusteeship. A September by-election which was won by the RSC candidate may have tipped the balance. Two RSC commissioners voted with MEMO in favour of installing the machines but one MEMO commissioner was away for the crucial vote, resulting in a 10-10 tie. Board rules allowed chairman Francois Ouimet to cast a second ballot, thereby defeating the motion.

Young people bombarded

To the surprise of some readers, the Montreal Gazette editorialized in favour of the MCSC’s decision.

“Condoms in schools are more than just a convenience. They are also a powerful symbol.

Popular culture and peers bombard young people with sexual pressure. Abstinence is not always easy. If one’s school – a central institution in teens’ lives – implicitly winks at intercourse by installing condom machines, it removes an important voice of restraint…

Finally, of course, in cleaving to its position the abstinence is the best way to avoid disease and unwanted pregnancy, the MCSC is being true to its Catholic identity…It’s hard to fault the RSC commissioners for refusing to betray their religious principles and electoral platforms…”

While the board rejected the condom vending machines, it did vote, however, to ensure an extensive sex education program. The board will ask public health officials to submit program proposals. This is of great concern to some parents. Commissioners have accepted the apocalyptic arguments on juvenile sexual activity and agreed, for example, that beginning in grade four, will “be informed of the need to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.”

According to the Catholic Times Montreal’s English language archdiocesan newspaper, the education minister Michael Page assured the Association des Parents Catholiques du Quebec last may that existing legislation allows parents to withdraw their children from part of the Personal and Social Education course.

This program, which contains material which some parents find extremely objectionable, was to have been implemented in the 1989 school year. The MCSC began teaching the course last year to grades four through six, and this year the program will be introduces to grades one through three. Parents are expected to teach it at home, and at least in the upper grades (4-6) the children may be tested on its content.

With the defeat of the condom machine proposal, a major battle has been won by the RSC and the traditional Catholic it represents, but it is clear that the war is far from over. Stay tuned.