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Part of cannabis and your kids

A team of Toronto teachers at Canada’s largest school board spent the summer preparing lesson plans for classroom conversations that would have been taboo in the past. In Nova Scotia, educators prepared a reference guide for teachers on safe cannabis use. And in Surrey, B.C., the school district sent an e-mail reminding staff about the laws around cannabis and minors.

As federal legislation legalizes the use of cannabis on Wednesday, many school districts across the country have been racing to update their codes of conducts, disciplinary processes and lesson plans to deal with student questions around cannabis use.

High-school students are mostly underage, so it will be illegal for them to possess or use cannabis. The drug will continue to be prohibited on school grounds.

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But George Kourtis, program co-ordinator for health and physical education at the Toronto District School Board, said that does not lessen the responsibility educators face.

“It’s a shift for teachers,” he said. “The conversation has to change now. It’s a little bit of a mental switch as well, because we have to leave all our biases outside the door. A lot of our lesson plans are a lot more open than they would have been in the past.”

Related: First legal purchase of recreational cannabis made in St. John’s, marking end of Canadian prohibition

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Mr. Kourtis called on a group of teachers over the summer to write lesson plans to reflect the new cannabis legislation. The lessons were similar to conversations around alcohol. Substance use is part of the health and physical education curriculum in Ontario that is covered sometime in the winter, but Mr. Kourtis has encouraged high-school teachers to speak to their classes about it on Wednesday. [Cannabis is specifically addressed in the Grade 6 health and physical education curriculum.]

“Kids are going to want to know. I know some schools are going to want to take advantage and teach it on Wednesday,” he said. “If students have questions, our job is not only to give them the right information, but also to empower them ... to make the right decisions.”

Several provincial governments say they have provided resources to school divisions to help teachers in discussions about legal cannabis. In Saskatchewan, an Education Ministry spokesman said that the health curriculum offers opportunities to address substance misuse, including cannabis.

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The Nova Scotia Department of Education will send a guide to school administrators and teachers on how to speak with students about cannabis. Steve Machat, director of personal development and wellness for the department, said teachers are already discussing in classrooms issues of substance abuse and use, and the guide provides more information around it.

“Our action here is to remind teachers of the tools and the resources that they already have,” he said.

Ontario has created a fact sheet for educators highlighting the changes, but it has yet to provide comprehensive instructions to school boards. Ingrid Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Education, said additional information is being developed “to support students and keep schools safe.”

Ahead of legalization, amendments were made to the province’s Education Act to include recreational cannabis use. A student could be suspended for up to 20 days from school if found to be under the influence or in possession of cannabis. A principal should consider individual circumstances and take into account mitigating factors before suspending a student. If a student gives cannabis to a minor, that student is automatically suspended for 20 days and the student could be expelled.

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