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Canada Ontario Conservatives sway on sex-ed curriculum, leaving teaching plan up in the air

The Ford government repeatedly sought to clarify its plans for sex education on Monday, with varying messages about how much of the curriculum it campaigned against would be rolled back.

Last week, the Progressive Conservative government drew an outcry when it announced it would be ditching a three-year-old sex-ed curriculum and go back to a teaching plan last updated in the late 1990s.

On Monday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson appeared to backtrack on that decision by saying Ontario students will still learn about topics covered in the new curriculum, including consent, cyber safety and gender identity, when they return to school this fall.

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“We know they need to learn about consent,” she said at the legislature. “We know they need to learn about cyber safety, we know they need to learn about gender identity and appreciation. But we also know that the former Liberal government’s consultation process was completely flawed.”

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But shortly after, in a scrum with reporters, she noted that Ontarians knew when they elected the Ford government that the existing sex-education curriculum would be thrown out.

She said educators will be able to keep the parts of “the curriculum that embraces preparing students for the realities of today.”

The portion of the sex-ed curriculum being replaced deals with “developing sexual relations,” she said.

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Her comments raised expectations that the government would be keeping parts of the sex-ed curriculum imposed by the Liberal government in 2015.

However, in a statement from her office later on Monday, Ms. Thompson signalled a full retreat from the most recent curriculum. Ms. Thompson said that while the government would revert to the older material, there would be “ample space” for educators to deal with more modern issues missing from the older document.

“We are reverting to the full health and physical education curriculum that was last taught in 2014. This curriculum leaves ample space to discuss current social issues.”

The consultations on the new curriculum will not begin until fall.

“We have made no decisions on what the new curriculum will look like. The final decision on the scope of the new curriculum will be based on what we hear from Ontario parents,” the statement said.

Ms. Thompson has criticized the consultation process on sex-ed under former premier Kathleen Wynne’s leadership.

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“We’re going to respect parents and allow them a chance to once and for all have their voices heard in a very fulsome, thoughtful, inclusive consultation,” Ms. Thompson said during Question Period.

Her remarks followed a question by NDP education critic Peggy Sattler, who called the sex-ed repeal “a backroom decision to appease a small circle of society conservative insiders at the expense of our children’s safety.”

Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said the Ford government is “flying by the seat of its pants” and she was waiting to see what the government’s final plan is for teaching sex-ed this fall.

Sara Escallon, a 16-year-old student activist from Toronto, said the syllabus “doesn’t go far enough” in addressing sexual-health topics related to LGBT youth.

“It’s very hard to grow up LGBT, and when you also aren’t given the same resources as heterosexual, cis-gender youth, it can lead to you maybe making some questionable decisions just because you don’t know [better].”

The sex-ed move is among a host of Mr. Ford’s campaign promises related to education, including a revamped mathematics curriculum, which emphasizes basic arithmetic over problem-solving strategies.

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The government appears to have begun a review of the training and qualifications that math teachers receive before entering a classroom.

A survey sent to institutions that teach education and obtained by The Globe and Mail asks participants about training parameters, such as the number of hours teacher candidates are expected to spend on mathematics, or whether they are required to teach it during practicums.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and activists spoke out Friday in support of the former Liberal government’s 2015 sex education curriculum. Doug Ford’s Tory government says teachers will use the 1998 version of the curriculum this fall. The Canadian Press
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