HAM is too sexy to talk about

River East Transcona School Division policies unclear on sex-ed

HAM, meaning homosexuality, abortion and masturbation, is not on the teaching menu in River East Transcona School Division’s classrooms. Jordan Janisse

Homosexuality, abortion and masturbation (HAM) have been hot topics of discussion in the River East Transcona School Division (RETSD) as of late – but not inside the classroom.

A supposed unwritten policy is in place in some schools that does not allow teachers to answer any questions on HAM.

Ashley Vieira, a former student of Munroe Junior High School, has first-hand knowledge of this policy in action.

Last year in her Grade 9 health class, one of the first things the teacher did was write “HAM” on the board. The teacher explained what it stood for and that she was not allowed to discuss the topics inside the school.

“If you had a question you would write it down,” Vieira stated. “If any of them had to do with HAM she would just throw it out because she couldn’t read it out to us.”

The HAM issue received media attention starting last month after a youth-led campaign began to spark public debate about Manitoba sexual health curriculum. The campaign is called HAM Happens: So Let’s Talk About It.

Eva Prysizney, the school trustee who chairs the Policy Review Committee of the RETSD, stated that no teachers have come to her to talk about this alleged policy.

Prysizney also asked the superintendent of the school division and was informed that no such policy exists.

The River East School Division amalgamated with the Transcona School Division in 2003.

The RETSD Administrator’s Handbook for Health Education underwent revisions in 2006.

If you had a question you would write it down. If any of them had to do with HAM she would just throw it out because she couldn’t read it out to us.

Ashley Vieira, former Munroe Junior High School student

The handbook states that sexual orientation, abortion and masturbation are not to be introduced as lesson topics. It states that teachers are allowed to answer questions with “a clear factual explanation.”

“If a teacher is uncomfortable answering a question in class then they would guide the student to the guidance counsellor, which I think is appropriate,” Prysizney noted.

Cassy Kissack, a student at Murdoch MacKay Collegiate, said this is also part of the problem.

“Why is it not city-wide, if not Manitoba-wide, that all teachers are receiving sensitivity training and education?” Kissack expressed.

In 1999, the Winnipeg School Division developed a series of anti-racist and anti-harassment workshops that all division staff must take. This includes sensitivity training to deal with questions pertaining to issues such as HAM.

The Rainbow Resource Centre (RRC) is a facility dedicated to providing support for the queer community of Winnipeg.

Chad Smith, the executive director of the RRC, thinks that the RETSD could look at the leading examples of other school divisions, such as the Winnipeg School Division, and make some necessary changes.

“As teenagers, we spend a lot of time at school and we can develop relationships with teachers,” Smith commented. “These people are in positions of leadership to help guide and educate youth and it’s a natural thing that we go to these people for support.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 11, 2010)

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