Several school districts are speaking out about the provincial government’s plan to have students learn from a 20-year-old sex-education curriculum that does not address topics of consent, cybersafety or gender identity.
In recent days, at least 10 of the province’s public school boards have released statements saying important and relevant sex-ed lessons will be included in classrooms regardless of the health and physical-education curriculum in place this fall. The Durham District School Board and the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board in the Peterborough area have called on the Conservative government to keep the current curriculum, which was updated in 2015, in place while it consults parents.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson has not answered questions in recent days since sending mixed signals early last week on what children would be taught in the fall. Last Monday, she said only a portion of the curriculum would be rolled back, but revised her position hours later and said the full document would be scrapped.
Premier Doug Ford has since said the province will revert to the old teaching document. Mr. Ford vowed in the legislature on Wednesday to consult parents in all 124 ridings before developing a new curriculum.
Deputy Premier Christine Elliott told reporters on Wednesday that the consultations will start in September. “We need to listen to the parents’ voices and the voices of everyone else who wants to be heard,” she said.
But with just weeks to go before students return to class, school boards say they have yet to receive direction from the Ministry of Education.
Alana Murray, director of the education for the Bluewater District School Board, around the eastern coast of Lake Huron, tweeted this week that students “deserve” an updated curriculum, “not one that pre-dates their existence.”
“I expect common sense will prevail in Ontario,” she wrote on social media.
In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Murray said the curriculum is a guide for what needs to be covered and that teachers can use their professional judgement on which texts and resources to use in the classroom. She acknowledged that the new government has different priorities and needs time to do the work it promised.
But, she added: “Kids are exposed to so many diverse ideas and information and they’re curious. They will continue to ask questions and I have no doubt that my staff and staff in other boards of education will continue to try to answer the questions that students have.”
Another board, the Trillium Lakelands School Board, in the Kawarthas region, also said this week that topics of gender identity and consent must continue to be taught at school and at home. “We will of course respect the direction the government has chosen to take, always remembering that the curriculum guidelines in any subject are viewed as a starting point for teaching, learning, and assessment and that there are always additional avenues we can follow," the board stated.
Matthew Reid, chair of the Thames Valley District School Board, in London, said he is seeking a legal opinion to determine what, if any, consequences teachers or boards would face if they taught aspects of the 2015 curriculum.
Mr. Reid said there has been a lot of confusion and Ms. Thompson’s back and forth last week on what can be taught was not helpful.
“My fear is that we’re already halfway through the summer, and teachers need to be getting the documents and preparing what they need to be doing for September. We can’t be getting the documents halfway through the year,” he said. “They [the government] haven’t executed this well whatsoever."