Hundreds of students in Winnipeg were absent Wednesday due to ‘misinformation’ and pressure in the community amid widespread protests and counterprotests over gender identity in the classroom, school officials say.
In the Seven Oaks School Division, more than 1,000 kids didn’t show up to school Wednesday. Division Superintendent Brian O’Leary says most absences were among the division’s schools with a significant South Asian population.
It came as thousands marched in protests and counter protests across the country, including here in Winnipeg.
O’Leary said school staff were alerted of activity on social media.
“A rumour was being spread that the schools were distributing sexually explicit and graphic literature that day, and you needed to keep your kids home to protect them from this,” O’Leary told CTV News.
“The rumour is absolutely false. There’s not a grain of truth to it. But a number of parents in that community felt pressure to keep their kids home.”
O’Leary said in order to correct the ‘misinformation’ being spread online, the division sent a letter to parents – written in English, Punjab and Hindi.
“Those are the communities where the misinformation was circulating and fears were being ratcheted up,” O’Leary said.
The letter says the division is concerned about misinformation that may be causing ‘unrest and fear among the public.’ It shares a link to the provincial curriculum, which the division assures is the curriculum being taught in schools.
A similar issue was seen in the Winnipeg School Division.
“We did experience some higher than normal absences in some of our schools which we know were related to misinformation being shared with families in some pockets of the city,” Radean Carter, the communications team lead for the division, told CTV News in an email.
Pembina Trails School Division said it did not see an uptick in absences Wednesday.
The River East Transcona School Division was unable to provide comment.
CTV News has reached out to Winnipeg’s remaining school divisions, and is awaiting comment.
O’Leary said his division will continue to reach out to parents in the community.
“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to correct the misunderstanding and to allay the fears,” O’Leary said. “And let people know that what schools are about is teaching kids empathy and understanding, and building hopefully a kinder, gentler, more understanding world for their kids to grow up.”
He said parents with questions can contact the division.
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