The Ontario government considered suspending sex ed entirely from classrooms across the province last summer; it was one option floated internally in the weeks before the government announced plans to repeal a contentious curriculum from 2015.
And nine days after Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced which route they’d taken, an internal document co-authored by assistant deputy ministers Martyn Beckett and Denys Giguère braced the minister for some of the anticipated impacts of the repeal decision.
“There would be no mandatory learning of the following topics: consent, sexting, homophobia, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” Mr. Beckett and Mr. Giguère wrote to Ms. Thompson on July 25. “Utilizing the curriculum last taught in 2014, with 1998 sexual health learning expectations, could be perceived by the public as outdated and not serving the needs of today’s students.”
The documents were presented on Thursday among exhibits for a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario case between an 11-year-old transgender girl and the provincial government. The girl’s lawyers have argued that the swap to a curriculum that does not include the word “transgender” means their client is subject to unequal treatment, as her peers are granted education about their sexual orientation.
The new exhibits in her case shed light on one of the earliest decisions made by Premier Doug Ford’s PCs when they took office last summer. Along with the HRTO case, the controversial sex-ed repeal spurred separate legal challenges from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the union representing Ontario’s elementary-school teachers.
Pulling back on the 2015 curriculum was one of Mr. Ford’s key campaign promises; he said during the election that parents felt “ignored” when it was rolled out. Many educators had hailed the new curriculum as a necessary revamp, but opponents such as faith groups and socially conservative family organizations labelled it as age-inappropriate.
The news that the government considered suspending sex ed altogether came up at the tribunal when Reema Khawja, counsel for the Ontario Human Rights Commission, entered into the official record a set of slides that were created to lay out decision-makers’ options in June.
The Ministry of Education declined to comment on Thursday about their consideration of an option listed as “suspend delivery of all Sex Ed.” It was inappropriate to comment, the Ministry said, as the matter was before the courts. “Our position is that the interim Health and Physical Education curriculum is not discriminatory and is consistent with the Education Act, Ontario’s Human Rights Code and the Charter,” they wrote in a statement to The Globe and Mail.
During his cross-examination on Thursday, Mr. Beckett affirmed that when the ministry decided to repeal the 2015 curriculum, they did not have evidence that told them providing sexual health information to students promoted earlier sexual activity, nor information that said that learning about gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation would cause a negative impact on students.
“In fact, sexual orientation is absolutely permissible to teach in the [interim] curriculum,” Mr. Beckett said, telling the tribunal there was still language related to homophobia and stereotyping.
The document by Mr. Beckett and Mr. Giguère, small portions of which were redacted from public view, lays out several impacts the government was preparing for – from a consideration that some members of the public and “particular stakeholder groups” might feel the government had gone beyond its platform commitment, to the fact that cannabis would continue to be referred to as an illicit drug.
Utilizing the older curriculum in the interim could also signal a government intention to “re-write rather than revise” the existing health and physical-education curriculum, they noted, which would be “significantly more complex and time consuming” than revisions.
He said curriculum reviews typically take at least two years, although they plan to be done by this coming fall. “It is ambitious, but I have amazing staff,” he said, when asked about the logistics of completing such a project on time.
The case resumes on Friday, and will hear closing arguments next week.