Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) is here to help equip parents so they can make informed choices to best meet the specific needs of their children.
This is especially important when it comes to the area of sexuality and gender content in Alberta’s K-12 schools.
We’ve separated this complex topic into six sections of key questions, all of which are answered in the content following below.
A. What sexuality and gender content in Alberta schools is leading to increased levels of student distress and parental concerns?
B. What are the legal rights of parents to be notified and opt-out of human sexuality topics? What are the significant gaps and limitations of these legal rights?
C. What can parents and concerned citizens do to advocate for system changes?
D. What approach to sexual education is increasingly being used in Alberta classrooms? If this approach does not meet your child’s needs, where can you access information on alternatives?
E. What are strategies to help parents communicate with their child in order to better understand the material being presented to their child during school hours?
- F. What are strategies to help parents build proactive and ongoing communication with teachers and administrators in their child’s school?
Note that PCE advocates on behalf of all parents having the right to be the primary educator and caregiver of their children. Each parent needs to discern for themselves the needs of their own children and then have the freedom to access an education setting that best meets those needs, especially when it comes to the sensitive area of sexuality and gender topics.
What sexuality and gender content in Alberta schools is leading to increased levels of student distress and parental concerns?
Unbeknownst to many parents, there has been an increasing trend toward integrating sexuality and gender content beyond just health classes into different subject areas, particularly under the banner of “non-discrimination”, “human rights”, “equality”, “respect for diversity” and “anti-bullying”.
PCE has received many first-hand reports from Alberta parents and students who were deeply troubled by the sexuality and gender content provided in their classrooms, which went far beyond what they expected to be included. The following are five examples:
FIRST-HAND REPORT #1:
A concerned older brother in Calgary described the distress of his Grade 7 sister after a classroom presentation by the Calgary Sexual Health Centre (now called “Centre for Sexuality”):
“My youngest sister came home upset from sex ed yesterday. The guest speaker in her class taught that gender is in the mind, totally separate from the body. That for the purposes of sexuality and puberty, there are no males and females but “people with penises” and “people with vaginas”. That “some people” grow more facial hair than others. The speaker lumped the changes that come with puberty (breast development, facial hair, etc.) together into one degendered list. According to my sister, many of her classmates were confused. Some of them, not knowing what else to think, just accepted it.
Well, I don’t believe it. And I don’t think many people do. We believe there are such things as male bodies and female bodies,that gender corresponds with chromosomes and primary sex characteristics. The problem is that people with ordinary beliefs aren’t generally the ones volunteering to write sex ed curriculum or give presentations about sex to children. I don’t think this means kids need to be pulled out of sex ed, but I think it does mean that parents now will have to thoroughly educate their kids at young ages so they can reject the garbage they hear from guest speakers, and maybe help their classmates reject it too.”
FIRST-HAND REPORT #2:
A mother of a junior high student in Edmonton happened to flip through her son’s notebook and was alarmed to see a handout from a guest speaker, who she had no idea had even come to her son’s class.
The handout for children included a diagram demonstrating that a person’s biological sex is completely independent from their gender identity, gender expression and orientation/attraction, as well as a glossary explaining terms such as cisgender, non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, agender, asexual, aromantic, pansexual and demisexual. (view photos of handout).
FIRST-HAND REPORT #3:
An Alberta dad learned about some books on a recommended resources list from SOGI 123, an organization providing Alberta teachers with tools and resources to help integrate SOGI topics into K-12 classrooms (note that “SOGI” refers to “sexual orientation and gender identity”).
He shared his alarm over the explicit sexual content:
“Sex is a Funny Word” is recommended for children ages 8-10. Some topics and images addressed in the book include breasts, penises, anuses, vaginas and erections. The text describes how touching “middle parts” can “feel good” and illustrations show children masturbating. (view page photos - WARNING: Sexually graphic material)
“This Book is Gay” is listed as young adult. A young adult (YA) rating in literature is generally assumed for children ages 12-18. Some topics addressed include: encouraging sexual experimentation, going to gay bars, using sex toys, using sex apps, descriptions of different sex acts and encouraging the use of pornography (page 169 states that “Basically, porn is fine and fun...”). If this book is not meant for school-age children then it should not be promoted on a booklist for K-12 teachers. (view page photos - WARNING: Sexually graphic material)
In addition, PCE is aware of SOGI 123 workshop slides presented to teachers which have been shared on social media, including one entitled “Introducing SOGI from K-3: Use Story Time or Visuals to Facilitate Topics”. This slide demonstrates how some teachers are encouraged to intentionally use story time as an entry point for topics about sexual orientation and gender identity for 5 to 8 year olds. (view slide)
Notably, the last bullet point on the workshop slide reads “Gender is a spectrum. Some people identify as girls, some as boys, some as neither boy nor girl and some as both boy and girl. This is different than what your parents/teachers have been taught and something that you may need to teach them!”
FIRST-HAND REPORT #4:
An Alberta student diagnosed with autism, along with her parents, described the heartbreaking trauma experienced after the student attended a fYrefly in Schools presentation with her class. Here are excerpts from the written testimonies of the student and her father, which were filed in an Alberta court challenge:
“… after attending the fYrefly Presentation, I started having persistent thoughts that I am more masculine than feminine, that I was really a boy trapped in a girl’s body and that I am attracted to girls. I have felt very screwed up by these thoughts. Prior to hearing the fYrefly Presentation, I had never once had these thoughts. These ideas were presented to me for the first time by the two fYrefly presenters.”
“I know that I am a girl, but I feel tormented by these thoughts that I have a guy’s brain and I feel like a guy.”
“I believe it is so wrong for people to be pushing all this information about gender and sexuality on kids.”
“… our daughter’s teacher acknowledges that the children were told at the fYrefly Presentation not to go home and tell their parents.”
“… [our daughter] felt anxious and confused during the fYrefly Presentation and wanted to leave, but felt that she was not allowed to.”
“This compulsive fixation that she is a boy has had a devastating effect on our daughter. She has experienced extreme anxiety, confusion and emotional and psychological turmoil.”
“Now, over a year after the Fyrefly Presentation, our daughter still believes she is a boy trapped in a girls’ body. The trust between ourselves and the educational system has been broken… We had provided our express direction that our daughter not be exposed to concepts and ideas about sexuality that we knew she was not ready for. But with the fYrefly Presentation, our instructions were disregard and our vulnerable daughter has suffered and continues to suffer as result.”
FIRST-HAND REPORT #5:
A former Alberta teacher, mother and blogger, Theresa Ng (who now works with PCE) raised the alarm in 2016 about a teacher resource published by the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA), called the PRISM Toolkit, which outlines for teachers how to integrate topics of gender fluidity and sexual orientation across all subject areas.
While the ATA claimed this was an optional resource for teachers, Theresa Ng aptly pointed out that it was not optional for a captive audience of students if a teacher decides to use it.
Theresa described many concerns with the PRISM Toolkit in her blog articles “You think you know what Alberta students learn in school?” as well as “You’re testing my child on… what?”, including:
- The only “correct” answer for an assessment question in Biology 30/Science 9 requires students to respond with the “Gender Spectrum” as a “more authentic way of understanding gender”. The Gender Spectrum demonstrates that gender is fluid, subjective, not connected to biology, and exists on a spectrum of limitless possibilities.
- A biologically-based “binary” understanding of gender as male/female is described as “overly simplistic”, “misleading” and “exclusionary and harmful”.
- Binary language is deemed “restrictive” and teachers are urged to “break the linguistic binary” in order to “practice allyship”.
PCE has been informed that the PRISM Toolkit continues to be distributed to current and pre-service teachers across the province, including past 4th year Education students at King’s University College in Edmonton.
Theresa also found and brought to public awareness the fact that organizations were providing resources to K-12 students and teachers which included sexually graphic material. Despite this incredible breach of public trust, these organizations continue to access Alberta students to provide support in the areas of health, sexuality and gender.
All of the examples provided above are drawn from the first-hand experiences of Alberta students and parents.
As a result, many parents are left wondering:
When it comes to my own child and their specific classroom and school, how do I know whether similar lessons, books, teacher resources, support websites and guest speakers are being provided?
If this is an area of concern for you then it is extremely important that you take an active role in finding answers and resolving your concerns.
The first step toward that goal is equipping yourself with an understanding of the content provided on this page, including information about notification and opt-out rights, limitations to those rights, different approaches to sexual education and strategies to help keep lines of communication open between you, your child and your child’s school.
We encourage you to keep reading in order to learn more!
What is a parent’s legal right for notification and opt-out on topics of human sexuality in Alberta? What are the significant gaps and limitations of this law?
When it comes to topics of human sexuality and religion, it is important parents understand their legal right for notification, as well as the significant gaps and limitations of these legal rights.
Alberta’s Education Act, section 58.1(1) states the following:
Notice to parent
58.1(1) A board shall provide notice to a parent of a student where courses, programs of study or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, include subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.
The law goes on to explain that once a parent is notified about this instruction then the parent can send a signed written request for their child to be excluded from the instruction. This request must be honoured by school staff without any academic penalty to the student.
While PCE appreciates that this notification and opt-out law provides some level of awareness for parents, we also urge parents to understand three major gaps and limitations to this current legislation:
1. The need for parental notification only applies to information that is deemed to be “primarily and explicitly” about “human sexuality”.
First, it is extremely important to understand that there isn’t agreement when it comes to the meaning of “human sexuality”. This means that while some parents may feel that a presentation teaching children about a variety of sexual orientations and gender pronouns should be classified as “human sexuality”, many teachers are likely to classify this content as learning about diversity or human rights and may be keen to integrate these topics into regular teaching, without parents ever being made aware.
Second, the phrase “primarily and explicitly” is an important qualifier because it means that parental notification is not legally required when gender and sexuality content is integrated into other subject areas.
This means a teacher may read a story to your Grade 1 child as part of a Language Arts writing lesson which includes topics of sexual orientation and/or gender identity and there is no legal requirement that you, as a parent, would be notified. The same applies for most of the lessons being put forward to teachers through SOGI 123 and the Alberta Teachers’ Association PRISM Toolkit mentioned above.
2. The law requires notification, not consent.
While the school has a legal responsibility to notify you, there is no requirement that they receive your consent.
Thus, the school has fulfilled its legal responsibility if they send a paper note home or post an alert on the website. However, if a parent misses the paper note (backpacks are messy places!) or happens to miss the school’s notification via email or the website then the parent will be left in the dark.
A parent’s consent is always presumed, unless otherwise indicated. That means the onus is on parents to ensure they are vigilant, actively asking for and looking for the information, or they may otherwise easily miss knowing about it. It is up to parents to take the lead and proactively communicate their expectations and concerns to the school.
One of PCE’s suggestions going forward, especially in light of the increasing experiences of student distress and parental concern, would be to strengthen this section of law and require an “opt-in” consent whenever subject-matter deals “primarily and explicitly” with human sexuality and religion.
3. The law covers content that is presented during instructional time, but what about non-instructional time?
The law specifically restricts parent notification to “courses, programs of study or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises”.
However, topics of sexuality and gender may also be presented to K-12 students outside of the typical classroom instructional time, being provided as part of a student’s “non-instructional” time during the school day - whether at recess, lunch or before or after school.
This is of particular concern because in 2015 -- under the Progressive Conservative government -- new laws came into force that created special provisions for “voluntary student organizations”.
These provisions legally require all principals in all Alberta schools to permit voluntary student organizations and their associated activities when they are requested by any student. According to the law, clubs and activities can include those that are focused on sexuality and gender.
Thus, under this law, school staff and parents lose the capacity to guide the resources provided to K-12 kids as part of these clubs and activities. If a student invites adults and organizations from outside the school to present information about gender and sexuality to their group - or even to the entire school through a school-wide activity - then staff are legally powerless to do anything except permit the activity. To learn more about this law, please visit our “Laws & policies that strip parental rights” page.
Another challenge to parents is that most public and Catholic school board policies in Alberta, as well as several private school policies, specifically state that school staff may purposefully withhold information from parents regarding the clubs and activities in which their children are participating. To learn more about these school board policies that restrict information to parents, please visit our “Laws & policies that strip parental rights” page.
These laws and school board policies thus create a massive gap in a parent’s capacity to know what sexuality and gender content is being provided to their children during clubs and activities at “non-instructional” times of the school day - whether that be books and resources presented to their children, activities, or guest speakers accessing their children without their knowledge.
Thus there are several gaps in the notification and opt-out legislation which still allow the provision of sexualty and gender content to K-12 children without any legal requirement to notify parents.
What can parents and concerned citizens do to advocate for system-level changes?
A parent’s freedom to access an education setting that best meets their child’s needs is substantially undermined by several systemic issues:
- Overall lack of safeguards to ensure transparency and accountability.
- School board policies forcing staff to purposefully withhold information from parents about their own children.
- Provincial law forcing all principals in Alberta to permit student clubs and activities without adequate measures for safety or oversight.
When it comes to these system-level problems, there are four main actions you can take:
Show your support by adding your name to the “Parental Consent is Key” open letter demanding practical, common-sense solutions that would resolve many gaps and provide transparency and accountability, ensuring increased levels of safety for Alberta students. This open letter is addressed to Alberta’s Education Minister and all the boards and associations governing public, separate, private and charter schools in our province.
Contact your locally-elected school board trustees to ask them directly whether they have policies in place which force school staff to withhold information from parents, including whether the following clause is contained in any of their policies: “The principal is responsible for ensuring that notification, if any, respecting a voluntary student organization or an activity… is limited to the fact of the establishment of the organization or the holding of the activity”.
If the answer is yes then it means information may be withheld from you about your own K-12 child and you can demand changes be made to ensure increased safety, oversight and accountability. PCE has compiled all the contact information for public and separate school trustees on our page “Connect with your elected representatives”.
Contact your MLA and the Education Minister to demand changes be made to provincial law in relation to section 35.1 of the Education Act, especially because the lack of safeguards puts students and principals at risk. The imposition of this law on all schools also undermines local decision-making and school board autonomy. Visit our “Laws & policies that strip parental rights” page for more details.
Contact information is available on our page “Connect with your elected representatives”.
- Join our Citizen Action Team and have access to valuable and informative webinars throughout the year which will support you in maximizing your impact through taking specific actions at key windows of opportunity. Contact John Hilton O'Brien, PCE’s Executive Director, for more information at [email protected]
The reality is that all of us have a voice and a vote when it comes to how our education system is being governed, regardless of whether we have a child currently in the K-12 education system or not.
That means we all have a responsibility to advocate for changes at the system-level to help build a K-12 education system that is more responsive to children’s needs and parental concerns.
What approach to sexual education is increasingly being used in Alberta classrooms? If this approach does not meet your child’s needs, where can you access information on alternatives?
Many parents assume that the content being provided to their children on the topic of health and sexual education is similar to the materials they may have received when they went to school. In fact, parents are often alarmed to learn about specific content being offered to K-12 students in Alberta, as well as the external organizations who are increasingly accessing students in school, often without parental awareness.
Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE)
There are growing concerns among parents regarding the move toward more "Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE)" in Alberta's K-12 classrooms and worldwide - specifically that this form of sexual education is not age appropriate and over-informs with explicit material, while simultaneously withholding other important information that is critical for the health and safety of children and youth. Many parents are worried that this form of sexual education endangers the health of children physically, emotionally, and psychologically.
We encourage parents to become familiar with what is meant by comprehensive sexual education and the types of materials and resources often included in CSE-based approaches to sexual education, which often include an emphasis on 1) consent; 2) pleasure; and 3) gender ideology.
The following resources offer information to help equip parents with an understanding of CSE approaches to sexual education. (WARNING: Sensitive subject matter).
- Video: The War on Children (worldwide)
- Video: Dr. Miriam Grossman, medical doctor, clinical child psychologist and counsellor speaking about CSE from a medical perspective (Ontario)
- Video: Dr. Miriam Grossman: an overview of her book, ”You’re Teaching My Child WHAT?”
What resources offer information about alternatives to CSE?
The following are a variety of provincial, national and international organizations that offer support and guidance to parents, teachers and administrators seeking an alternative to CSE approaches to sexuality and gender.
Note: PCE does not officially recommend or endorse any particular resources, but leaves it up to individual parents and educators to discern the most appropriate resources for their own context. If you know of any additional resources not yet listed here please send to [email protected] for consideration to be included.
- PEACE Parents (Ontario) is a faith-based organization offering information to any parent who is interested in advocating for an “inclusive design model” within their local schools. They have produced a webinar and printed “Parent Support Guide” to help parents understand how they can advocate for alternative approaches to CSE in order to better meet their child’s needs (note the section focused on Ontario curriculum will not be directly applicable to Alberta).
ASCEND (USA) “aims to empower today’s youth to make healthy, informed decisions about sex... In addition, we are advocates for parents and communities. We strongly believe that they should have the choice to select Sexual Risk Avoidance for their children. Because of the work we have done in the past decade, the majority of states — and even more communities — are teaching the health-affirming SRA message in health classes across the country.”
Ascend offers a three page summary sheet “Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: What You Need To Know” along with a tremendous number of other supports for parents, teachers and administrators in their “Resources” section.
Transgender Trend Resources & Support (U.K.) is “an organisation of parents, professionals and academics based in the UK who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose children as transgender, including the unprecedented number of teenage girls suddenly self-identifying as ‘trans’ (Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria or ROGD).... We have no religious or political affiliation. We come from diverse backgrounds, and our team includes teachers and safeguarding professionals, academics and parents, some of whom were themselves extreme gender non-conforming children and adolescents…”
Transgender Trend offers a variety of resources in their “Schools Resources” section to help support parents, teachers and administrators.
Focus on the Family (N. America) is a faith-based organization and offers a resource for parents “Talking to your children about transgender issues”.
What are strategies to help parents communicate with their child in order to better understand their child’s needs and the material being presented during the school day?
As parents, we often have limited ability to change the culture and the circumstances that our families live in. However, what we can do is intentionally invest time and effort into strengthening our relationship with our children and aim to keep the lines of communication as open as possible.
That said, it is important to have conversations with your children, spend time together eating meals and doing activities, listen carefully to what your children share with you and ask questions to deepen the conversation.
When it comes specifically to the topics of sexuality and gender, parents could consider discussing with their school-age children questions such as the following:
- Does anyone at school ever read books to you about boys being girls or girls being boys? Have you ever read books in your classroom or library that have boy characters changing to girls or girl characters changing to boys? If so, how does that make you feel?
- Does anyone at school ever ask you to try out different pronouns instead of “he” and “she”?
- Do you know of any students at the school who are changing from a boy to a girl or from a girl to a boy? How does that make you feel?
- Are you struggling with whether you are a boy or a girl?
- What guest speakers or presentations come to your classroom, to clubs or to school assemblies? What information do they tell you?
- Have you seen signs or heard announcements at school letting you know about clubs or activities about gender, sexuality or anti-bullying like a Gay-Straight Alliance or Queer-Straight Alliance?
- Has anyone ever invited you to attend clubs or activities about gender, sexuality or anti-bullying?
- Have you ever felt curious or pressured to join a club or activity about gender, sexuality or anti-bullying?
- Has your teacher, principal or any of the other adults in the school said anything to you or your friends that made you feel uncomfortable?
- Has an adult or student at school ever said anything that went against something you learned at home, or made fun of you for something you learned at home?
Let your children know that they can come to you if anyone in school - whether a student, guest speaker, teacher, staff member, principal or anyone else - tells them something that confuses them, makes them feel uncomfortable, or contradicts what they have been taught at home. Let them know that you are there to listen and support them through whatever struggles they may be experiencing.
It is important that we as parents aim to create a space of safety and emotional security for our children at home, where our children can process information honestly and openly and find stability in what often feels like chaos.
Research from Harvard University shows that the number one factor to build resilience in children is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. We urge parents to be that person in their child’s life.
As said by Jane D. Hull, an American politician and educator: “At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child’s success is the positive involvement of parents.”
What are strategies to help parents build proactive and ongoing communication with teachers and administrators in their child’s school?
Sometimes parents feel intimidated to come to the school with their concerns or they think “the teacher knows best. It’s not my job to interfere. I shouldn’t question them. I just have to trust them.”
But it is important to remember that you are the expert on your own child and if there is ever anything that you’re wondering about, or something that you feel uneasy about, then you need to be confident to dialogue with the teacher(s) and school staff to voice your questions and concerns.
Today, more than ever, parents need to take active responsibility for their children’s learning rather than just delegating that responsibility to teachers and schools.
Here are some suggestions to help parents proactively build a stronger relationship with school staff, before any problems happen:
- Be a visible presence in your child’s life at school as much as possible. When teachers and school staff know your name and face they will be far more likely to pick up the phone or send you a message if there is a problem.
Always, always, always ask questions. If you have concerns or questions, don’t hesitate to contact the school to say “I’m wondering about this, can you explain it to me?”
- Make a proactive effort to build open lines of communication. When we approach teachers and school staff with a respectful, helpful attitude then they are more likely to be receptive to our concerns.
Those are all strategies to build a relationship proactively, before an issue needs to be addressed. But what happens if there’s a problem or an issue that comes up?
- Be prepared to provide solutions, not just problems. If you have an issue with something that happened, what are some ideas which could address your concern? Try to prepare some suggestions to explain what you would like to see changed.
- Avoid going into the school when you are emotionally charged, angry or upset. Sometimes when an issue concerns our children we can easily become angry, upset or defensive. Whatever the issue, it is important to ensure that you communicate in a manner that is as calm and factual as possible.
Arrange important meetings ahead of time instead of just showing up. Teachers and administrators have a lot of responsibilities throughout a school day. Make an appointment ahead of time by phone or email so school staff are more likely to be focused on resolving your concern.
As much as possible, bring in facts about your specific concerns. Depending on your concern you may bring in certain examples of lessons, handouts or a specific timeline. Specific facts and concrete examples are more helpful than vague generalities.
- Follow the chain of command. Sometimes when parents are really upset, they will go directly to the principal’s office. However, it’s always best to start at the level of the person most directly involved in your specific concern. For example if the concern is a specific lesson then go directly to the teacher first. Then, if the teacher does not respond to your concerns go to the principal. If the issue is not resolved by the principal then consider going to your school board trustee.
What happens if you follow all of these suggestions and you still feel that your concern has not been resolved?
The inherent benefit of authentic education choice - and why PCE is such a strong proponent of strengthening education choice in Alberta - is that education choice naturally accommodates a diversity of student needs rather than imposing one-size-fits-all solutions on everyone through systems of centralized control.
That said, we would encourage parents and students to consider all the options available to them in their area and if one education setting is not meeting your child’s needs then consider accessing a different option. You can find more information on our “K-12 Education options in Alberta” page.
The area of health and sexual education is indeed a complex topic to unpack. If you have any further questions or concerns, please let us know by sending a message through our website contact form.