Seven Oaks School Division experienced a large number of student absences Wednesday, something the superintendent attributed to a social media campaign based on misinformation.
“As we checked into it, a number were responding to information on social media that the school was somehow distributing graphic sexual material to students yesterday, and that they needed to keep their kids home,” superintendent Brian O’Leary said.
O’Leary was also quick to dispel any rumours. “There’s not a grain of truth to what was circulated on social media,” he said.
In an email to parents from the division, supplied to Global News from a parent, O’Leary provides a link to the province’s curriculum.
“We want to ensure all members of our community that our focus is always on safety, inclusion and human rights for all,” the email reads. “We want to reassure families that we are teaching to the curriculum set forward by Manitoba Education.”
The absences took place on the same day as the “1MillionMarch4Children,” a march that saw demonstrators gather at the Manitoba Legislature over concerns about “gender ideology in schools”. They were met with counter-protesters, promoting inclusion and support for the LGBTQ2 community.
O’Leary said the social media campaign circulated particularly among parents in the school’s south Asian community. He said although many students were absent, he spoke to many of the parents later that day.
“Even one of the schools where a substantial number of parents kept their kids home, they came to the back-to-school BBQ that night, and said, ‘You know, we’re OK with what the school is doing, we just felt pressure from the social media campaign and pressure from the community.'”
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O’Leary called the campaign “fear-mongering” and said it has the same tone as the 1MillionMarch4Children.
“What we see, I think, are the culture wars creeping up from the States, and I don’t think we can be as complacent as we have been,” he said.
Leigh Anne Caron is the co-executive director of the Sexuality Education and Resource Centre (SERC). SERC’s work includes hosting comprehensive sex education workshops in schools, in line with the provincial curriculum.
“Ideology is not the language that comes into fact-based comprehensive sex ed,” Caron said. “We talk about consent, autonomy over bodies, and what healthy relationships are, and that results in people being able to say no. We see decreases in violence, and relationship violence, and bullying.”
Like the provincial curriculum, SERC’s material is available online. Caron wonders if those questioning the material have all the information as to what their children are being taught.
“It is really about getting facts and information,” said Caron. “I think a lot of fear can be dispelled when you have honest, open conversations and answer questions in a non-threatening way.”
O’Leary encourages parents with concerns to contact school staff.
“Go to your kid’s school. Talk to the teacher. They’re happy to inform you. But circulating information that says we are sexualizing children or that your kids aren’t being looked after in school it is absolutely false.”