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The head of Ontario’s largest teachers’ union says it will “vigorously defend” educators who use the modernized sex-education curriculum in classrooms.

Speaking at the annual meeting for the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) on Monday, president Sam Hammond said the government’s decision to revert to a 20-year-old curriculum is “irresponsible, discriminatory and jeopardizes the safety of the students that we teach." ETFO said that if there are any complaints made by parents or disciplinary action taken by school boards against teachers who use the new curriculum, it will apply all measures to defend them.

“Teachers will not be muzzled by a government whose political agenda takes precedence over the protection and education of their students,” Mr. Hammond said.

“ETFO will vigorously defend members who continue to follow the 2015 health curriculum and will pursue all options to respond appropriately to the government’s reckless behaviour," he added.

The government said it would repeal the sex-ed curriculum, part of the wider health- and physical-education studies, and consult parents on how to update it – fulfilling a campaign promise of Premier Doug Ford. In the meantime, the Progressive Conservatives are replacing the program with a version developed in 1998.

The curriculum update in 2015 was hailed by educators as a necessary step because it dealt with topics that children face, including online safety and consent. But opponents, especially social conservatives, have labelled it age-inappropriate, zeroing in on the modernized curriculum’s lessons on gender identity, same-sex marriage and masturbation. They argue that parents should be the ones to provide such information.

At Queen’s Park last week, Mr. Ford said the government will consult with parents “on math, on science, but also on the sex-ed."

“Do you know what puts our children at risk? … What puts our children at risk is when we don’t consult with the parents and we listen to a bunch of politicians and a bunch of activists. That’s what puts our children at risk,” Mr. Ford said.

The government has indicated that consultations will start in September, but it hasn’t released any details.

Further, with just a few weeks to go before students return to class, school boards say they have yet to receive direction from the Ministry of Education.

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.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, sent a letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson on Friday asking that the updated curriculum be kept in place during the consultations.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is scheduled to address ETFO’s meeting on Tuesday morning. ETFO said it did not invite the government to speak.

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