Grade 6 class taught to snort cocaine
'My jaw just dropped'
The parents of a Grade 6 student have pulled their daughter out of a "Substance Use and Abuse" class at a Hamilton school after a teacher gave a step-by-step lesson on how to snort cocaine.
Linda Harley, mother of Caitlin, an 11-year-old girl who attended Chedoke Middle School, said the teacher used white chalk to first draw a circle on the blackboard to represent a mirror or piece of glass, a surface from which cocaine is often inhaled.
The teacher then drew dots on the circle to represent the white powder and students were shown how the dots are pushed together into lines that are then snorted through a tube, Mrs. Harley said.
She learned of Caitlin's class last month when the family was eating dinner.
"We were sitting around the table and asking her about her day. And we ask, 'What did you learn in school today?' And she says she learned how to snort cocaine," she said.
"My jaw just dropped to the floor."
The school and the school board stand by the lesson, saying the details of drug use are essential in preparing children to avoid illegal drugs.
Such a graphic description, however, did not sit well with Ontario's Ministry of Education.
"This concerns us. That sort of display in an elementary school is just not acceptable. We're certainly concerned this is happening in an elementary school in our province," said Dave Ross, a ministry spokesman. Mrs. Harley said she had a meeting with the principal of the school and the teacher.
She went into the meeting assuming her daughter was exaggerating about what occurred or mistaking schoolyard talk for classroom instruction.
"I explained to them exactly what my daughter said to me and the teacher said that was exactly what happened. It wasn't an exaggeration," she said.
She was told the details were needed so the children could easily identify the drug if they are ever in a room where it is in use, Mrs. Harley said.
Mary-Jane Black, vice-principal of Chedoke Middle School, said the blackboard demonstration is not part of the normal lesson plan but was in response to a student's question about how cocaine affects the nasal passages.
"Out of the 160-odd Grade 6 students who receives that particular program, there was only a question from two parents, so it is not a concern," she said.
Chedoke Middle School has 504 students in grades 6, 7 and 8.
She said the health class is one of the touchiest in school because it is where sex and drug education are taught. That is why the school sends letters home to parents explaining the nature of the material to be covered, she said.
Mrs. Harley remains unimpressed. "I don't think it is appropriate. I don't think they need to know the step-by-step, how-to guide of every drug," she said. She pulled Caitlin out of the class and has since moved to Grimsby, Ont., which is not in the Hamilton school district, although the move was not related to her concerns.
"We've talked to the new school and shared our concerns about this and we were assured that things like that will not be happening here. They seemed surprised," Mrs. Harley said.
Jane Allison, spokeswoman for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, said drug education is important in a world where children are inundated with drug-related images on the street and in the media.
"The subject of cocaine is certainly appropriate and fits in with the curriculum expectations. Especially if a couple of things have happened, like questions come up in class or things appear prominently in the media," she said.
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