COLUMN: School issues that need addressing

by Phillip Blancher

SOUTH DUNDAS — There are many issues facing parents in Ontario when it comes to education. The most recent of those is the upcoming changes to the sex-education curriculum, the first update to this curriculum since 1998.

Proponents of the update state that it is a long-needed modernization that takes into account that puberty has been starting earlier and earlier in youth, and that helps youth deal with our modern age of pressures such as the internet and dangers of sexting.

Opponents of the update state that it is exposing youth to sexual ideas that they may not be mature enough to deal with. That the plan destroys the innocence of youth, or a sexualizing of children, part of a “gay agenda.”

It is both, and neither. Without reading the plan, one cannot say for certain either way. But there is a problem with opponents and proponents of the plan, it assumes that the state has the right to teach morality and values to youth. It assumes that the family unit has shirked it’s responsibility and that elected or party officials have the right to take it over. It doesn’t.

The state’s role in sex education should be dealing with the science of sex education. Biology, how it works? Why it works? How reproduction occurs and how sexual transmitted diseases occur? What are the consequences of unprotected sex? Purely the science education of sex. In addition, as part of the already fairly robust anti-bullying teaching in school, technological issues such as sexting should be covered. How to protect yourself, how to report it, how to deal with it.

The family’s role in sex education should be dealing with the moral and ethical issues of sex. Some families may hold more liberal views towards sex, others more conservative. But that role of teaching the morality and ethical issues are part of the family’s role.

The state should stop trying to encroach on the jobs of the family unit, and the parents, regardless of the family make up, should stop allowing the state to take over.

Busing challenges

Recent outcry in the Ottawa news media about staggered bus time changes to be more efficient with transportation resources, caused a slight chuckle when read. In Eastern Ontario, the part that exists outside of the Ottawa “bubble”, this has been a fact of life for quite a few years.

Longer bus runs, earlier in the morning for some, later in the morning for others. In our family’s case, a 7:25 a.m. pick up time makes for an early morning.

Is there a benefit to staggered busing times? Financially to the bus company and school board yes, but to the students no.

Most evening activities for youth run until 8 or 9 p.m. or later, while the bus times are earlier meaning youth are getting less sleep during the night. This leads to irritability, focus issues and overall fatigue. Couple that with increased childcare costs for working parents who’s kids may be off the bus at 2:45 p.m. but they are not finished work until 5:30 p.m., the benefit is not there for families. This is not just based on scientific fact, it is based on empirical evidence, namely this writer’s own family experiences.

When on the bus, youth are not allowed to do much for the 20, 30, sometimes 45 minute bus ride. To protect the buses from damage, one is not allowed to take homework out to work on it. Nor are youth allowed to play cards, colour or draw. The only “permitted” activities are playing on your electronic device, or reading.

When it comes to the social aspect on a bus, there is the potential for many issues. One bus driver vs 40+ students aged 4 to 17. Elementary and Secondary school grades mixed on the same bus. There is no other monitoring system, no bus patrols, nothing. The transition from school to home is the most unstructured and unmonitored time of the day for youth. There needs to be more done to prevent potential issues and allow the bus drivers to safely deal with their primary job, driving the bus.

Handcuffing children

Last week, Ottawa Police handcuffed a 9-year old autistic boy who was in the middle of a violent outburst in his Catholic elementary school. As the parent of someone who is on the autism spectrum, the outrage that the parents of that boy feel is very understandable.

Four years ago, my own child had the same happen to her. During an episode, a community relations police officer who happened to be in her school at the time, put her hand on my daughter’s shoulder to comfort her, and she reacted physically. The officer reacted based on their training, pinned her to the ground and hand cuffed her.

After the initial shock of my 12-year old being pinned to the ground and handcuffed wore off, and talking with the officer, the one thing stood out was that police officers need more training on how to deal with children with special needs.

Some autistic children will lash out or escalate the physical outburst if touched. There are many deescalation techniques that can help with children who are on the Autism Spectrum, or have other developmental or behavioural issues. Police across the province need to have better training, to at least know the basics on how to deal with these kids so that handcuffs are the last resort, not the first option.

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