The head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation vowed to defend educators who teach aspects of the current sex-education curriculum this fall, standing alongside his elementary-school counterpart after the provincial government said it would be replaced with a version that dates back 20 years.
The updated curriculum, rolled out in 2015, discussed issues such as consent, online safety and gender identity, and union president Harvey Bischof said many teachers feel “trapped” between their obligation to follow the Ministry of Education’s direction and “their ethical imperative to keep students safe."
“We will defend to the hilt any member who, in the good faith exercise of professional judgement, strays outside the outdated confines of the 1998 curriculum in her or his students' best interests,” Mr. Bischof told the audience.
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His words echoed that of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, which earlier this week promised to “vigorously defend” any educator who faces disciplinary action for using the updated curriculum.
A school board could impose penalties on a teacher that would escalate from a verbal or a written warning to a suspension and termination. A complaint could also go to the Ontario College of Teachers, which has a range of disciplinary measures that includes temporarily suspending a teaching certificate.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government said that after it reinstates the 1998 curriculum it will consult parents on how to update it.
When the the most recent curriculum was rolled out three years ago, it was hailed by educators as a necessary step because it dealt with topics that children face. But opponents, especially social conservatives, have labelled it age-inappropriate for young children, zeroing in on its lessons on gender identity and same-sex marriage. They argue that parents should be the ones to provide such information.
The government has indicated that consultations on a new curriculum - part of wider health and physical-education studies - will begin in September. With a little more than two weeks left till school starts, school boards say they are still waiting for direction from the Ministry of Education on what to teach.
Todd Smith, the government’s House Leader, said that the Ford government has been clear with teachers that they are expected to teach the 1998 sex-ed curriculum. Mr. Smith would not say what consequences there would be, if any, for teachers who choose to use the newer curriculum in classrooms.
“We fully expect our teachers to be professionals and to teach the same curriculum that was taught in 2014,” Mr. Smith told reporters at Queen’s Park on Thursday morning. (The 2014 sex-ed curriculum was the same one used in 1998).
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“They understand the situation that we are facing in the province right now, that we have to have this consultation, and there will be a new health and physical-education curriculum coming in the near future after we go and talk to the parents,” he said.
Mr. Smith conceded that the sex-ed curriculum has become a “hot-button topic for both sides” since Mr. Ford was sworn-in on June 29 and quickly moved to fulfill a campaign promise to halt the changes introduced by the previous Liberal government. There have been protests on the grounds at Queen’s Park against the government’s move.
“Parents who are out there, who are concerned, are going to have an opportunity, whether they are for or against the curriculum, to let their voice be heard,” Mr. Smith said.
In recent weeks, almost all of the province’s English secular school boards have spoken out about the government’s plan to have students learn from the 1998 curriculum. Boards have said that important and relevant sex-ed lessons will be included in classroom instruction regardless of the health and physical-education program in place this fall.