Back to old sex-ed cur­ricu­lum

Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter plans to re­vert back to for­mer sys­tem, which hadn’t been up­dated since 1998

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - ONTARIO NEWS - NI­COLE THOMP­SON and SHAWN JEFFORDS

TORONTO — On­tario schools will go back to teach­ing the same sex-ed cur­ricu­lum they did in the late 1990s this fall af­ter the prov­ince’s new gov­ern­ment an­nounced Wed­nes­day it was re­vok­ing an up­dated ver­sion brought in by the pre­vi­ous regime.

Just over a week into the sum­mer break, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Lisa Thomp­son said min­istry staff were work­ing to in­form school boards of the de­ci­sion to re­vert to the cur­ricu­lum that was in place be­fore 2015.

The older cur­ricu­lum will re­main in ef­fect un­til the gov­ern­ment com­pletes a “ful­some con­sul­ta­tion re­spect­ing par­ents” on how to mod­ern­ize the ma­te­rial, she said.

The newer sex-ed cur­ricu­lum sparked con­tro­versy, par­tic­u­larly among so­cial con­ser­va­tives, when the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced it three years ago.

It was the first time the cur­ricu­lum had been up­dated since 1998, and it in­cluded warn­ings about on­line bul­ly­ing and sex­ting that were not in the pre­vi­ous ver­sion. But pro­test­ers ze­roed in on dis­cus­sions of same-sex mar­riage, gen­der iden­tity and mas­tur­ba­tion.

The up­dated doc­u­ment has its sup­port­ers, how­ever, in­clud­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple who signed a pe­ti­tion to save it af­ter the Tories — who vowed to scrap it dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign — were elected last month.

A group also paid for a three­me­tre-long sign de­fend­ing the cur­ricu­lum.

“Dear PC MPPs,” read the sign, which was parked out­side the leg­is­la­ture Wed­nes­day. “Don’t let the re­li­gious right hi­jack sex-ed.”

On­tario’s two largest teach­ers’ unions said they op­pose the de­ci­sion, not­ing that par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors were con­sulted ex­ten­sively be­fore the cur­ricu­lum was up­dated.

Sam Ham­mond, pres­i­dent of the Ele­men­tary Teach­ers Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario, said the move is a “huge dis­ser­vice” to stu­dents, who need to learn about crit­i­cal is­sues such as con­sent.

What’s more, given the amount of in­put teach­ers, ex­perts and par­ents had in the up­date, any new con­sul­ta­tions are likely to give a sim­i­lar re­sult, Ham­mond said. He en­cour­aged par­ents to call on Thomp­son to save the up­dated cur­ricu­lum.

The de­ci­sion also doesn’t leave teach­ers much time to al­ter their plans for the fall se­mes­ter, said Har­vey Bischof, pres­i­dent of the On­tario Se­condary School Teach­ers Fed­er­a­tion.

“No­body wants to be un­pre­pared, it’s cer­tainly not the best ap­proach to class­room prac­tice to make last-minute de­ci­sions or to have last-minute de­ci­sions foisted upon our mem­bers,” he said.

“And so it doesn’t feel like a thought­ful ap­proach, it feels like a bit of a knee-jerk re­ac­tion.”

Some par­ents, too, said they would have to make ad­just­ments in light of the change.

Me­gan Hous­ton, a mother of three — aged two, four and 21 — said it will af­fect how she talks to her younger chil­dren about sex, men­tal health and other sub­jects that were ad­dressed in the newer cur­ricu­lum.

“It makes me, as a par­ent, more vig­i­lant,” she said. “For my fouryear-old, for ex­am­ple, we’re talk­ing about things like per­sonal space.”

The ear­lier cur­ricu­lum, which was taught to her old­est daugh­ter, glossed over some key is­sues, she said.

“While there were me­chan­ics of things talked about, it was sep­a­rat­ing this idea of sex and feel­ing and emo­tion. Whereas with this new cur­ricu­lum, it re­ally ties in this idea of ‘sex is not just some­thing that your body does, it’s some­thing that will af­fect you emo­tion­ally,’ ” she said.

Oth­ers re­joiced at the news, say­ing par­ents and med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als should play a big­ger role in cre­at­ing the cur­ricu­lum.

An or­ga­nizer with the Thorn­cliffe Par­ents As­so­ci­a­tion, a group that op­posed the cur­ricu­lum brought in by the Lib­er­als, said the move was a vic­tory for par­ents.

Khalid Mah­mood, a fa­ther of five, said he was un­com­fort­able with grade school chil­dren learn­ing about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, a topic that was cov­ered in the up­dated cur­ricu­lum.

Some ob­servers raised con­cerns about how Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ment would af­fect in­clu­sion in schools.

“Our schools should be more un­der­stand­ing of all di­ver­sity, of all re­li­gions, of all sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions and gen­der iden­tity,” said Su­san Gapka, a Toron­to­based trans­gen­der ac­tivist who has run for school trus­tee.

“To re­peal this would take us back about 20 years be­fore tex­ting and smart­phones,” she said.

Lee Air­ton, a pro­fes­sor in the Fac­ulty of Ed­u­ca­tion at Queen’s Univer­sity, said teach­ers can still create an in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ment even with the older cur­ricu­lum.

How­ever, the change could af­fect how some teach­ers feel in the work­place, the pro­fes­sor said.

“I worry about new, young and pre­car­i­ously em­ployed teach­ers who are gen­der and sex­ual mi­nor­ity peo­ple and whether they will ex­pe­ri­ence a chill­ing af­fect in their teach­ing and whether they will feel less sup­ported by their ad­min­is­tra­tion,” they said. —With files from Daniela Ger­mano and Paola Lorig­gio

JACK BOLAND/TORONTO SUN

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Lisa Thomp­son on the first day back at the Queen’s Park Leg­is­la­ture on Wed­nes­day.

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