Confusion reigns

With just three weeks until the 2018/2019 school year begins in Ontario, teachers, boards of education, parents, students and, apparently, Minister of Education Lisa Thompson, are unclear about what is happening with the province’s sex education curriculum.

Confusion was the order of the day throughout the PC leadership campaign, as candidates vied for positions that they thought would appeal to their voter base without taking the time to really understand what the current sex ed curriculum was all about.

Doug Ford: “Parents were not consulted on sex education. I can guarantee it,”

Reality check: In the development of the new curriculum, 4,000 parents, 2,400 educators and stakeholders, 700 students, police forces, child protection agencies, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health and others were consulted.

Tanya Granic-Allen: “Maybe [students] could concentrate full scale on math if they weren’t talking about anal sex in the classroom.”

Reality check: The new curriculum uses a harm-reduction approach so that young people can engage in sexual activity safely. It does not provide a how-to guide for different kinds of sexual activity.

Out with the new and in with the old

Fast on the heels of his election, Ford announced that the new sex ed curriculum was going to go. Minister of Education Lisa Thompson wasted no time in declaring schools would be teaching the curriculum from 1998, written before same-sex marriage was legal in Canada, trans issues had public traction and social media had emerged to create the perfect environment for cyber-bullying and other forms of online sexual violence. Or was that the so-called but non-existent 2014 curriculum that would be taught? Hard to know, with the lack of awareness being demonstrated by those in charge of this important policy change.

Perhaps thinking she was helping, but really just adding fuel to the fire, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott declared that teachers could speak “privately” with students about those oh-so-controversial topics rather than doing so in the classroom.

Not so golden silence

Following the initial flurry of rhetoric, the government has become very quiet on this issue. Thompson muddies the water anytime she says anything, so perhaps it is just as well that she is not talking. In one of her rare public comments, she announced that she will be holding a “thorough end-to-end consultation with parents” beginning in the fall. According to her, this will be

“one of the most robust consultation processes in the history of Ontario’s education system and all parents, all points of view, will be invited to participate.”

Her goal? Apparently, it is to “ensure Ontario’s children are protected while their parents are respected.”

This is not sitting well with many of Ontario’s school boards, teachers and parents, who believe the best way to keep kids safe and respect the many different kinds of families in Ontario today is through education rather than ignorance.

As Peel District School Board Chair Janet McDougald said:

“You can’t say, no, we’re not going to talk about different kinds of families.”

Schools boards from most regions of the province have spoken out against the plan to remove the 2015 curriculum. Some are planning to teach it, regardless of what the government is saying. Others plan to teach the old curriculum but add in the missing information, particularly about sexual orientation, gender, consent and online safety.

Taking it to the streets (and courts)

It is not just school boards that are scrambling to stop the province’s move back in time. We Have Your Back, a coalition of community organizations, offers resources, a petition and other strategies to Ontarians who want to fight back.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, under the leadership of former Attorney General Michael Bryant, is poised to apply for an injunction as soon as the government issues a directive to school boards to use the 1998 curriculum, and a group of parents and students has launched a case before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal focused on the harm to children and young people that will result if the 1998 curriculum is used.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) issued a letter to the editor in late July opposing the government’s move to return to the 1998 curriculum, claiming it would put students at risk. This week, during its Annual Meeting, it called on union members to teach the 2015 curriculum.

Others are peppering Lisa Thompson with requests to be included in her “robust” consultation and ensuring she gets the message loud and clear by papering her constituency office in Blyth with signs calling for schools to use the current curriculum.

Given the extent of the confusion about what is supposed to be taught coupled with the public outcry against turning back the clock, maybe, just maybe, the current curriculum will make its way into schools this fall. And that would be a very good thing.

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