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Sask. government will let parents opt their children out of sex-ed


Students under 16 years of age in Saskatchewan will require parental permission when changing preferred names and pronouns in a school setting.

The Saskatchewan government announced the immediate policy change on Tuesday.

Parents or caregivers must also be informed about any sexual health education that is occurring and will now have the option of opting their children out of sex-ed.

"Our government has heard the concerns raised by Saskatchewan parents about needing to be notified and included in their children's education in these important areas," education minister Dustin Duncan said in a news release.

"We also determined that while all of Saskatchewan's school divisions had policies dealing with these matters, those policies varied from one division to another, so it was important to standardize these policies and ensure consistency of parental inclusion," Duncan said.

Boards of education must also pause involvement with any third-party organization connected to sexual health education.

During a news conference Tuesday morning in Regina, Duncan said the government recognizes some students may not feel comfortable approaching their parents about their desire to use a different pronoun at school or present a new gender identity.

“What the policy will be going forward is that in the event that a child expresses a concern that their parents will not be acceptable of this, what the policy will tell the school divisions is that they need to provide the support to that student to get them to a place where they are comfortable telling their parents," Duncan said.

“If we are requiring school divisions to get parental consent to go to a half-day field trip to the science center, then I think we need to be treating this issue with the same amount of seriousness," he said.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, the leader of Saskatchewan's offical opposition slammed the move by the province, labelling it "cynical and divisive politics."

“Today was a new low … Today what we saw from this government was calculated policy to solve their own political problems and a policy that we fear will put already vulnerable kids at greater risk," NDP Leader Carla Beck said.

She said while the provincial NDP supports parental involvement in schools and good communication between home and school, she said they “don’t support outing kids and putting them at greater risk.”

“I am deeply frustrated and frankly, angry that this is what the education minister in our province spent his summer doing,” she said.

The policy changes come after the newly-formed Saskatchewan United Party gobbled up a considerable slice of the vote in a byelection held in the constituency of Lumsden-Morse earlier this month.

Sask. United campaigned on the controversy sparked by a Planned Parenthood sexual health resource that was provided to Grade 9 students in the town of Lumsden.

The day after the byelection, Premier Scott Moe held a news conference where he said his ruling Saskatchewan Party had heard the "message" sent by voters.

University of Saskatchewan Students' Union Pride Centre Coordinator Kseniah Pidskalny said classrooms can serve as safe spaces for youth who are gender non-conforming. She said the policy changes may "put queer youth at risk."

"Those students that can no longer be themselves are going to struggle with mental health, are going to struggle with feeling accepted in their community and it hurts my soul to know that they will feel so alone in those kinds of situations," Pidskalny said.

"When they're forced to hide themselves, which would likely be the case, you force those kids to constantly think that the world hates them," Pidskalny said.

A similar move in New Brunswick earlier this year limiting the use of preferred names or pronouns for transgender and nonbinary students under the age of 16 led to a significant backlash.

Pidskalny said the Saskatchewan announcement was "disappointing and frustrating."

"This continues to be something that's challenged and talked about like it's this 'epidemic,' when in reality it's affecting real people's lives — real children's experiences within the community and it just seems very reactionary," she said.

"It doesn't actually seem to be like a reflection of what is actually occurring within the system of children in the education system."

During the education minister's morning news conference, he said teachers were part of a "growing chorus of concern" about how schools approach sexual health.

However, in a video posted online, the president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation said the new policy "handcuffs teachers' ability to build trust."

"It also dangerously threatens the safety and wellbeing of Saskatchewan students. This knee-jerk reaction to an isolated incident is a significant overstep by the government," said STF President Samantha Becotte.

"It not only politicizes our classrooms but it also takes us down a dangerous path without any consultation with teachers or the public at large."  

--With files from Anhelina Ihnativ Top Stories

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