Police brought in as ‘extraordinary’ Gwynedd meeting over sex education erupts into chaos
Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter
An ‘extraordinary’ council meeting lived up to its name when a debate over sex education in schools erupted into chaos in Caernarfon.
The public gallery was cleared by police and councillors were held back in the Gwynedd Council chamber for ‘safety reasons’ at the end of the highly charged meeting on Thursday, August 25.
Emotions were running high as events unfolded during tense discussions over the Relationship and Education Curriculum .
The Welsh Government sex education policy is to be rolled out in schools in September.
The policy is a mandatory element of the Curriculum for Wales Framework, and is the statutory guidance for headteachers, governing bodies and LEA’s
It is also the subject of a Judiciary Review later this year.
The emergency meeting had been called for by five Gwynedd councillors: Louise Hughes, Eryl Jones-Williams, Angela Russell, Gruff Williams and Rob Triggs.
The councillors claimed that the sex education scheme could have “potentially very significant consequences for both parents and children….as well as to our teachers, our constituents, and the Council”.
The meeting came as some parents threatened to withdraw their children from schools amid a campaign by the Public Child Protection Wales group (PCPW).
A graphic leaflet distributed by the group alleged that the curriculum could introduce young children to ideas such as “self-stimulation, masturbation, bondage and anal sex”.
But a Welsh Government spokesperson described the leaflet as “full of misinformation and unevidenced, incorrect claims”, and said children would “only learn topics that are appropriate to their age and development”.
At the meeting, Cllr Hughes proposed that the council refer the policy matter to scrutiny “as a matter of urgency”, and was seconded by Cllr Williams.
Cllr Hughes said that, since hearing about the RSE, she had “not been able to sleep” but had “wanted to open a frank and open discussion in the spirit of freedom of speech”.
During her address, which included descriptions of sexual acts and genitalia, she was several times asked to redirect her comments and told she was “out of order”.
Members of the public gallery loudly clapped and cheered her on, but shouted down and booed councillors arguing in favour of the policy. They had argued the policy was for the “protection of children”.
Several warnings were given to members of the public who interrupted those speaking in the policy’s favour.
Defending it, Gwynedd councillor Beca Brown, who leads on education, said: “I am totally supportive of the education code set out by Welsh Government.
“My agenda on behalf of Gwynedd is the welfare, safety, health and happiness of the children and young people of this county.
“As cabinet education leader, I want the children of this county to be confident in creating healthy relationships; confident in setting boundaries, confident in saying no and to be happy in their own skin.
“Respecting other people and respecting differences in each other is of paramount importance.”
As teacher Cllr Dewi Jones made his passionate address, saying that “misleading information” had been distributed, there was a a loud response from the public.
Chief executive Dafydd Gibbard warned the hecklers, saying: “Any more interruptions and the gallery will be cleared, so that everything feels safe.”
Shortly after, a man rose from his seat and shouted his disagreement, prompting others to join in.
The meeting was then brought to a sudden stop, and several female members of the public left the room crying.
Police officers were brought in and, after a short recess, the meeting continued.
A vote was held on Councillor Hughes’ proposition that the matter be referred for scrutiny, with 19 in favour, one abstention and 30 against.
The meeting then ended suddenly, with the public the gallery being cleared by the police and council officials.
Members of the council remained inside the chamber until the area was cleared.
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