Does River East Transcona School Division have a policy ordering teachers not to discuss homosexuality, abortion and masturbation (HAM) with students?
Demonstrators planning a protest against homophobic bullying at 5 p.m. at the legistature today say the policy is real and enforced.
The division and its teachers' union say the policy doesn't exist.
Rumours that the division has a so-called HAM policy have been around for years, but no one has ever seen it documented.
Teachers in River East Transcona are not allowed to initiate discussion about the three issues, and are told not to discuss the issues should students raise them in health, family life, or any other classroom, says University of Winnipeg political science Prof. Shannon Sampert.
"This is informal, this is what they've been told by the school division," said Sampert, who says she's a media go-between for an unspecified number of River East Transcona teachers fearful they could lose their jobs for speaking out.
Sampert said the demonstration will be run by HAM Happens: So let's Talk About It!, which she said is "a group of students, education providers, and the Rainbow Resource Centre."
River East Transcona Teachers Association president Jenniffer Schlag said she isn't aware of any such policy, written or unwritten.
"I haven't had any complaints from members. These are definitely important issues to talk about," she said, but, "I've never heard of any policy that would tell teachers to refrain from teaching sensitive material."
The division says abortion and masturbation are not part of the provincial health curriculum, but teachers may discuss those topics and sexual orientation when students raise them.
The department of education says that schools may choose the breadth and depth of sensitive content to teach within the health education curriculum: greater than the framework, the same level, less than the framework, or not at all.
Parents have the right to inspect the health curriculum, and can choose to opt out of having their kids take health education.
Manitoba Teachers' Society vice-president Paul Olson said he's unaware of a don't-discuss policy in River East Transcona, but said it is standard for teachers to receive professional training before teaching sensitive content. As a Winnipeg School Division teacher, Olson said, "If we get questions, we tend to answer them."
When he received training to teach health education in WSD, Olson says, he was told: "You teach the program; if any question comes up, you address it, because the kid has a need. You teach it in an age-appropriate way."
The Free Press reported earlier this year that health officials blame a lack of consistent in-school sex education for an alarming rate of sexually-transmitted diseases among Winnipeg youth.