Parents in one Toronto community have made good on their threat to keep their children at home on the first day of school to protest the province's new sex-ed curriculum, which they say is not age appropriate.
At Thorncliffe Park, where nearly all of its Grade 1 to 5 students were pulled from class during a protest staged by parents in the spring, almost half of the school's population was absent Tuesday, said a spokesman for the Toronto District School Board.
Complaints from parents have ranged from a lack of consultation with them to not wanting their kids to be taught about same-sex relationships and different gender identities.
Education Minister Liz Sandals urged parents who are opposed to the curriculum to first talk to teachers and principals because there is "a lot of misinformation" being circulated, but each school board does have a policy on withdrawing students from particular classes.
However, she said, the majority of the feedback she has received has been positive.
"I have never in my life been just stopped on the street by strangers so often (who) said, 'Thank you for doing this. Hang in there. We want this program."'
Premier Kathleen Wynne said in addition to thousands of school council chairs, 70 health organizations and parent groups were consulted in crafting the new curriculum, which had not been updated since 1998.
"This is the most widely consulted upon curriculum in the history of the province," she said Tuesday.
"When we write curriculum...on geography or social studies or mathematics, that kind of consultation does not happen because that's not how curriculum has been historically written in the province. We felt there was a need to have a broader consultation with parents on this curriculum."
Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton, who has been a staunch opponent of the curriculum, is urging Wynne to shelve the document and start over by consulting parents.
The party's new leader, Patrick Brown, notably did not broach the issue in his statement marking the first day of school. He said last week he wants to "make sure parents have a say on how much and when."
In the spring Sandals suggested Conservative groups were behind some of the opposition and now there are Conservative candidates campaigning in the federal election on sex-ed opposition.
"If there's one group of people we admit we have not consulted with in a thorough sort of way, it would be federal Conservative candidates, I admit," she said.
Brampton, Ont., Conservative MP Kyle Seeback sent out a mailer to his constituents questioning "the age appropriateness" of the curriculum.
"I was overwhelmed with calls, letters and emails from constituents on this issue," he said in a statement.
"It's my job to be my constituents' voice. I don't tell them what to be concerned about, they tell me what they're concerned about. And they are very concerned about this new curriculum which they were not consulted on."
Under the changes, Grade 3 students will learn about same-sex relationships, kids in Grades 4 and up will learn more about the dangers of online bullying, while the perils of sexting will come in Grade 7.
Lessons about puberty will move from Grade 5 to Grade 4, while masturbation and "gender expression" are mentioned in the Grade 6 curriculum.
Meanwhile, contract talks continue between the province and elementary teachers, Ontario's Francophone teachers and support workers. Elementary teachers are staging a work-to-rule campaign during which they won't plan fundraising activities or field trips or attend open houses.