BY RATTAN MALL
A furious parent sent me this email last weekend:
“I am writing you to express my outrage that my child is being taught to pretend to be a gay or lesbian and practice “coming out” to his community at his high school (He attends Johnston Heights Secondary School in Surrey). It is completely ridiculous that teachers are teaching this to grade 8 students without any notice to parents at all. To ask him to pretend to be gay goes strongly against our family’s religious beliefs and is completely disrespectful to my family.
“I have attached photos that he managed to take of a paper left by one of the teachers. As you can see, it goes into depth of getting students to “experience” what it is like to be homosexual. This goes far beyond teaching kids to be kind to everyone. I view this as nothing other than propaganda.”
The fact is that many students would be too embarrassed to even tell their parents about this sort of a lesson.
So I contacted the school principal Cory McLaughlin on Monday about it and later the Surrey School District’s Communication Services Manager Doug Strachan contacted me with the district’s explanation of what was going on.
Strachan said that the attachments I received about the program “formed the lesson but the lesson was modified from that.”
He said the lesson is an International Baccalaureate program and is a specific program for early high school. The same lesson was taught last year as well.
He added: “The purpose of it is to cover one of the aspects of the program – open-mindedness – one of the 10 learner attributes that the program advocates.”
Strachan said that the school could discuss with the parent his understanding or assumption of what may have been in the lesson.
“It could have been race, religion, any other topic that has a wide range of opinions or involves somebody who in some ways can be marginalized in society and the objective is to give students an understanding of the different sorts of challenges that people with, in this case, different sexual orientation might face,” he explained.
When I asked him if it was okay to force students to role play the part of a gay, Strachan said: “There’s a group of teachers and they are using a lesson plan – it wasn’t developed by them. It’s a lesson plan that is available for this sort of topic. They modified it … I don’t know how it exactly played out in the classroom but the teachers would be happy to talk to the parent and go through it and obviously if he still has concerns that is another thing.”
He added: “The intent was to provoke the students to think about what it would be like. It could have been a woman wearing a niqab … what it’s like to face the different sorts of challenges whether it’s [caused by] religion or race or sexual orientation … and have them be open-minded about understanding what that might be.”
Strachan stressed: “It’s not encouraging [that lifestyle] in any way … they don’t use the term gay man or lesbian woman in the lesson. They’ve modified the language that was used as well as the plan that was photographed.”
I asked Strachan what a parent should do about their concern and he said: “They can start with the teacher to get clarification as to what was the intent, what was actually taught and how, and the principal whom you wrote to, she’s happy to sit down with him and the teachers and go through it.”
He noted: “The difficulty is there were three different grade 8 classes this year [and] there were some grade 8 classes last year that were also taught this and there’s been no complaints from anybody and unless we hear from him we won’t know that he has a concern.”