Edmonton Catholic School Board wants sexual abuse prevention taught in schools

The Edmonton Catholic school board voted in favour of a proposal for K-12 curriculum that teaches students the importance of reporting sexual assaults.

'I don't believe this is a religious issue. This is something that crosses all socio-economic levels'

The Edmonton Catholic School board wants the Alberta government to develop curriculum teaching students and teachers the importance of identifying and reporting sexual abuse. 

At the board's final meeting of the school year, trustees voted seven to one on a motion pushing the Alberta government to include sexual abuse prevention in its recently announced curriculum review. 

Board chair Marilyn Bergstra brought forward the proposal in hopes of raising awareness among students on what she believes is an epidemic. 

"You have to educate them," said Bergstra. "You have to try to help build that capacity by building comfort, and providing them that safety net to come forward and say someone is hurting them."

Bergstra worked with the Zebra Child Protection Centre, an organization that helps children who disclose sexual abuse.

The centre reports that one in six boys, and one in three girls don't report sexual abuse. And 95 percent of all sexual abuse cases go unreported.

"They say this is our secret, they threaten kids," Bergstra said. "Kids don't know what to do. And it's sad."

Larry Kowalczyk was the only trustee to vote against the proposal. 

He said nothing in the motion expressed the need to design the curriculum 'through a Catholic lens.' 

But Bergstra pushed back saying the issue has nothing to do with faith. 

"I don't believe this is a religious issue," she said. "This is something that crosses all socioeconomic levels, all cultures, all faiths, and no one is exempt to it."

Alberta Education will begin developing new curriculum across all grades and all subject areas in September.

The board hopes their motion will be considered in that overhaul.