Premier Doug Ford says Ontario students will be taught the province’s 20-year-old sex-education curriculum in the coming school year while his government consults tens of thousands of parents on developing a new program.
Mr. Ford faced a barrage of questions about the sex-ed curriculum during Question Period on Tuesday. The previous day, Education Minister Lisa Thompson sent mixed signals on whether children would still learn about topics included in the province’s newer curriculum, which was implemented by the former Liberal government in 2015.
Mr. Ford confirmed the province would revert to the old teaching plan, which was implemented in 1998 and last taught in 2014. He vowed to consult parents in all 124 ridings before developing a new curriculum.
“We’re going to consult with tens of thousands of people across this province and we’re going to make sure that we get their end of it, and their concerns, and we’re going to take their concerns and we’re going to implement a new curriculum,” he told reporters.
“I think everyone is going to be pleasantly surprised. I really do. I don’t think this is the end of the world. I think it’s actually healthy. It’s healthy that when it comes to teaching our kids, we have to consult the parents.”
In scrapping the 2015 sex-ed curriculum – which includes topics such as consent, cybersafety and gender identity – Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives argue that parents were not consulted widely enough before the new program was introduced. Mr. Ford said “there was close to zero consultation.”
The Ontario Premier said just 1,638 people were consulted on the curriculum after the plan had already been developed, a figure he called “disgusting.” Mr. Ford appears to have drawn the statistic from a 2015 Toronto Sun article about a Freedom of Information request that found that just 1,638 out of about 4,000 parents contacted to provide feedback had taken the time to complete the online survey.
As part of its consultations on the elementary health and physical-education curriculum, which includes sex-ed, the former government sought feedback from 4,000 parents – chosen by principals from representatives on the school councils of every elementary school – in the fall of 2014.
The Liberal government also conducted earlier consultations and focus groups with students, teachers, faculties of education, universities and colleges, in addition to other stakeholders. More than 70 health-related organizations submitted reports and more than 2,400 people provided feedback on the draft curriculum, according to a 2014 news release.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said the outreach was unprecedented. “The consultation process for that document was probably the largest, most extensive consultation process for any piece of curriculum ever developed in Ontario.”
In developing a replacement for the 2015 curriculum, Mr. Ford said his government would undertake the largest consultation in Ontario’s history, but later qualified his remarks to say it would be the largest education consultation. He has not provided details, other than to say representatives would “sit down” with parents in all the province’s 124 ridings in addition to stakeholders, starting in the fall.
Charles McVety, a prominent evangelical leader who has spoken with Mr. Ford about the sex-ed curriculum, said he is hoping for public town hall discussions with parents.
Ms. Thompson did not take any questions on sex-ed during Question Period and later dodged reporters.
Ms. Thompson also faced scrutiny for comments she reportedly made to a radio station in February, 2015, that surfaced on Tuesday and appear to support the former government’s consultation process. “Our education critic was very forthcoming in saying the minister of education has done a lot of consulting around this ... We do need an upgrade to the curriculum,” she said at the time, referring to former PC education critic Garfield Dunlop.
Asked about Ms. Thompson’s remarks, Simon Jefferies, a spokesman for Mr. Ford’s office, did not comment.