I was fortunate enough to do a guest lecture for an additional qualification course for Ontario Health and Physical Education teachers, ranging from the primary to the secondary division, last week. One of the workshop participants asked me a really important question:
"Should we be asking parents/guardians for permission to have their child take part in my sexual health unit - whether it is through an email or a permission form?"
Every school has different policies and routines when it comes to preparing both students and their families for the sexual health unit. Regardless, I think it is important to look at this question from a different perspective.
I understand that teachers want to make sure that parents are well informed about what their child is learning in school, especially when it comes to subjects as sensitive as sexual health education. But let me frame this predicament in a different way: would you, as a teacher, send a permission form home before starting a new Math unit? Or a new Language unit? Would you email parents and guardians to ask for permission to teach the ecosystem in Science?
Some may argue that comparing Math, Language or Science to Health (or Human Development and Sexual Health specifically) is like comparing apples to oranges, but I beg to differ. The Ministry of Education spends a lot of resources to develop the most relevant and current curricula for students in Ontario. A lot of time, effort and thought was put into developing the Human Development and Sexual Health strand. As teachers, we have an obligation to follow the curricula.Therefore, we do not have to ask for permission to teach the content we have been provided by the Ministry.
Having said that, there is absolutely nothing wrong sharing ahead of time what your unit will look like. Many experienced and expert teachers I have spoken with tend to do the same thing every year - about two weeks prior to commencing the sexual health unit, they will send an email home outlining the topics that will be covered over the course of the unit, and at the end encourage parents/guardians to email back with any questions or comments they may have. Also, suggest parents/guardians to bring up these topics at home ahead of time to start the conversation about sexual health before it happens in the classroom. That way students, the teacher, and parents/guardians are all on the same page, and hopefully students will be coming to class more prepared ahead of time and ready to learn.