Ontario schools will revert to teaching the old sex-education curriculum, which did not include topics such as same-sex marriage and online safety, when students return in the fall.
The province’s new Education Minister, Lisa Thompson, told reporters on Wednesday that the government would repeal the contentious sex-ed curriculum that was rolled out in 2015 – fulfilling a campaign promise of Premier Doug Ford – and consult parents on how to update it.
“The sex-ed component is going to be reverted back to the manner in which it was prior to the changes that were introduced by the Liberal government,” Ms. Thompson said. “We’re going to be moving very swiftly in our consultations, and I will be sharing with you our process in the weeks to come.”
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The curriculum update was hailed by educators as a necessary step (it was last done in 1998), but opponents – mainly faith groups and socially conservative family organizations – labelled it age-inappropriate, zeroing in on the new curriculum’s lessons on gender identity, same-sex marriage and masturbation and arguing parents should provide such information. Even the topic of consent proved contentious, as it suggested to some parents that their children might be engaging in sexual activity.
During the election campaign, Mr. Ford said many parents felt “ignored” when the curriculum was rolled out.
But the previous, Liberal government said its consultations had included educators, experts and one parent from each of the province’s 4,000 elementary schools.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who also heads the Official Opposition, criticized the government’s decision to revert to the old curriculum. She said the current document is more responsive to the issues students face today.
“Going backwards in terms of keeping our kids safe and giving them the information they need to stay safe is not the right direction for the kids of this province,” she told reporters.
But Tanya Granic Allen, whom Mr. Ford removed as a Progressive Conservative candidate over homophobic statements and who has been a vocal opponent of the sex-ed program, praised the government’s move.
“The Minister of Education needs to require all teachers not to teach children any of the age-inappropriate or culturally insensitive parts of the current curriculum. At the top of the list, children should not be taught the unscientific and controversial gender theory,” said Ms. Granic Allen, who heads the group Parents as First Educators.
The sex-ed component makes up about 10 per cent of the health- and physical-education curriculum and handles such topics as acceptance of same-sex couples, consent, puberty and online safety. In Grade 1, for example, students learn the proper names for body parts, which experts say promotes positive body image and self-confidence and, in the event of abuse, gives children the language to report inappropriate touching.
In an e-mail to the education community on Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, Ms. Thompson outlined her government’s priorities for the sector, which included maintaining the current school-closure moratorium until a review of the process is completed and reviewing the province’s standardized testing model. She also said the province would restore “proven methods of teaching the fundamentals” in math “to ensure student success.”
But many educators were struck by her promise to revert to the previous sex-ed component of the curriculum “until we can implement a new one that is age appropriate and based on extensive consultation with parents.”
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Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said his union and other education groups are taking to social media and reaching out to politicians, hoping the government will change its mind before school starts in September.
“It just shows an absolute lack of understanding of student realities in 2018 by the Ford government and the Minister of Education,” Mr. Hammond said. “It’s problematic for students in terms of their ongoing education.”
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said that in 1998 there was no discussion in schools about consent or sexting. “There are pieces of the curriculum that back in 1998 wouldn’t have been there because it hadn’t become a thing yet,” she said. “This is about the safety of our children.”