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Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath speaks to press alongside advocates against the repeal of Ontario’s updated health and physical education curriculum at a news conference held in Toronto on July 13, 2018.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says the Ontario government’s plan to repeal the province’s sex-education curriculum is catering to a social-conservative base, and vows to fight the change.

Flanked by community activists at a news conference on Friday, Ms. Horwath, whose party is now the Official Opposition, accused Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government of caring more about “favours he owes to social conservatives than he does about keeping our young people safe.”

“We will not stand by … while Doug Ford puts the safety and well-being of Ontario’s children at risk,” Ms. Horwath told reporters.

This week, the new government said that Ontario schools will revert to teaching the old sex-education curriculum from 1998, which does not include topics such as same-sex marriage and online safety, when students return in the fall.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson said the province would repeal the 2015 curriculum – fulfilling a campaign promise made by Mr. Ford – and consult parents on how to update it.

The updated curriculum, which was rolled out in 2015, included such topics as online bullying and safety, consent, the risk of sexting and discussions around same-sex relationships. Educators hailed the update as a necessary step. It made up about 10 per cent of the wider health and physical-education curriculum.

But opponents, mainly faith groups and socially conservative family organizations, labelled it as age-inappropriate and argued for more consultations, even though the previous Liberal government said advice came from educators, experts and one parent from each of the province’s 4,000 elementary schools.

In a statement on Friday, Ms. Thompson said her government promised to cancel the curriculum and “launch a fulsome consultation with parents before implementing a new one.”

“We listened to parents across the province who were concerned about the lack of consultation with the new curriculum and we will have more to say on this in the near future,” she said.

Ms. Horwath said that many educators will face a dilemma heading into the school year. Some have mused on social media about how they will try to address issues students face in other subjects, outside of the health and physical-education curriculum.

“They will be required to teach the curriculum that is mandated by the province. Having said that, my understanding is that there are already educators who are trying to figure out how it is they can provide alternatives in other spaces to help provide parents with some of the tools that they need to keep their kids safe,” Ms. Horwath said.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said his members are “deeply concerned” that students will not be receiving necessary information on issues around consent and healthy relationships.

“Teachers have a professional duty to deliver the curriculum provided by the Ontario Ministry of Education,” he said. But he added: “Teachers may use their professional judgment on how to deliver the approved curriculum and what things they may explore with students above and beyond that.”

He said that the union will review how teachers can deliver the old curriculum, while still “protecting the safety of students.”

Andrew Campbell, a Grade 5 teacher in Brantford, Ont., said the curriculum is a guide for the minimum that needs to be covered in the classroom, and as long as students meet expectations, there’s no reason they can’t be engaged with higher-level material.

He said that topics addressed in the 2015 health and physical-education curriculum are also raised in other subject areas.

“Are language-arts teachers supposed to avoid books that deal with issues around consent? Are we supposed to avoid literature that has transgender characters? These things are going to come up in the classroom whether they’re in the health and physical-education curriculum or not,” Mr. Campbell said.

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