Education minister stands behind Planned Parenthood suspension

“I haven’t had a lot of time to think about if I would have done it differently, but at this point, I would say no. I’d do it the same way.”

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Minister of Education Dustin Duncan said that he did not speak directly to Planned Parenthood Regina after an incident at Lumsden High School involving mis-distributed educational materials, before suspending the organization from Saskatchewan schools last week.

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Duncan held an impromptu press conference last Thursday where he announced the non-profit, which delivers educational programming on sexual health and contraception, would be suspended from schools after a student took home a set of ABC sex cards from PPR’s resources.

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The cards were not part of the presentation being given to students, reiterated Planned Parenthood executive director Julian Wotherspoon. They included details about sexual terms and activities, often relevant to LGBTQ+ individuals, presented in a “tongue-in-cheek” way.

Duncan said that he acted after seeing the details of the “inappropriate” cards circulating on social media that Thursday, but did not reach out to Planned Parenthood about the controversy.

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He said the ministry “did confirm with the school division” about what took place, before calling a press conference Thursday afternoon where he announced the temporary suspension pending review.

“We did see the statement that was purported to be by the school division (and) they confirmed,” he said.

Duncan defended his quick response on Tuesday, stating that things moved “very quickly” from when he heard about the cards and the press conference.

“I haven’t had a lot of time to think about if I would have done it differently, but at this point, I would say no. I’d do it the same way,” Duncan said.

Wotherspoon confirmed that the ministry made “no contact” with PPR before the minister’s delivery of a suspension, nor have any ministry representatives been in touch in the days since.

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She said the announcement last week was a surprise, as PPR had had conversations with both the high school and Prairie Valley School Division in the two days following the presentation about the oversight and felt a resolution on the incident had been reached.

A spokesperson from Prairie Valley confirmed to the Leader-Post that the school did speak to Planned Parenthood and expressed concerns. A division representative also met with PPR on Thursday, just before the minister’s press conference, but not on behalf of the ministry.

They also added that the school division did not make a public statement on the incident, and the document circulating on social media was a leaked email from the school’s principal to parents.

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Wotherspoon said Planned Parenthood has been doing educational presentations in schools for many years, and always talks over the details with the school before.

She feels the minister’s involvement, in this case, was a heavy-handed response to what is typically “localized” interaction with schools.

“That interference, in what educators are choosing to do in their classrooms, choosing to bring into classrooms that are in line with the curriculum, is an overreach, I think,” she said. “You set the curriculum, and then you have to trust people to work within it.”

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She added it’s “not surprising” to hear the minister stand by his response. She said an invitation has been extended, for the ministry or Duncan to meet with PPR to hear details of what their educational presentations do include, but it has not been answered.

“He, as far as I know, does not have any new information since the time he made that decision,” Wotherspoon said.

Opposition leader Carla Beck, at a separate press conference also on Tuesday, said the cards were an “inappropriate” resource to have been accessible in a classroom but the minister has made an “overreach” in suspending all sexual health education in schools.

“It’s in sharp contrast to how long it took the Minister to act when it came to, for example, allegations of abuse at Legacy (Christian Academy),” she said.

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“He moved so quickly on this, but we saw the minister take months to react or to act on allegations of serious — and founded, we’ve now seen — physical and other abuse in schools funded by the government.”

When asked Tuesday if a suspension, however temporary, was the appropriate call, Duncan said he felt it was.

“If I can’t say it in front of (media) to the point you can air it on your networks, then my view, as a minister of education, is that it probably doesn’t have room in the classroom for it, he told reporters.

“But it did end up in front of students and so I want to know how it happened, and who’s accountable for that, so we’re going to undertake a review.”

That review will take place over the summer and include Planned Parenthood in discussions. Duncan said the organization’s suspension could be resolved by fall, pending arrival on what “safeguards and checks” are needed on “materials third parties are bringing into classrooms.”

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