Teach­ers chal­lenge ‘snitch line’

On­tario gov­ern­ment in hot seat over sex-ed cur­ricu­lum

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - ONTARIO NEWS - AL­LI­SON JONES

TORONTO — On­tario ele­men­tary teach­ers have taken the gov­ern­ment to court over the prov­ince’s sex-ed cur­ricu­lum in part be­cause of a warn­ing to ed­u­ca­tors that came along with it, their lawyer said Wednes­day.

A Toronto court is hear­ing a le­gal chal­lenge from both the Ele­men­tary Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario and the Cana­dian Civil Lib­er­ties As­so­ci­a­tion over the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment’s re­peal of an up­dated sex-ed cur­ricu­lum.

Those 2015 up­dates made by the pre­vi­ous Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in­cluded les­sons warn­ing about on­line bul­ly­ing and sex­ting, but op­po­nents, es­pe­cially so­cial con­ser­va­tives, ob­jected to parts ad­dress­ing same-sex re­la­tion­ships and gen­der iden­tity.

The teach­ers al­lege the re­peal is un­con­sti­tu­tional, putting chil­dren at risk by fail­ing to be in­clu­sive and meet­ing the needs of to­day’s stu­dents.

But ETFO lawyer Howard Gold­blatt said in court that there might not be a le­gal chal­lenge if Premier Doug Ford hadn’t also is­sued a warn­ing to teach­ers who openly said they would con­tinue to use the now-scrapped ver­sion of the cur­ricu­lum.

“It’s not sim­ply a re­place­ment of one cur­ricu­lum with an­other ... it’s be­cause of how. It’s be­cause of the mes­sage that was con­veyed,” Gold­blatt said.

In Au­gust, Ford said the gov­ern­ment would not tol­er­ate any­one us­ing chil­dren “as pawns for grand­stand­ing and po­lit­i­cal games.”

“Make no mis­take, if we find some­body fail­ing to do their job, we will act,” the premier said.

His gov­ern­ment also launched a web­site where par­ents can re­port such con­cerns, which crit­ics have dubbed a “snitch line.” And a pub­lic in­ter­est com­mit­tee was an­nounced to en­sure “cur­ricu­lum­based mis­con­duct is­sues are fairly dealt with” by the On­tario Col­lege of Teach­ers.

When asked by the Divi­sional Court judges Wednes­day if any teach­ers had been since dis­ci­plined for us­ing the 2015 cur­ricu­lum, Gold­blatt couldn’t point to any ex­am­ples. But he said their free­dom of ex­pres­sion is be­ing con­strained.

“We don’t have to wait for peo­ple to be ac­tu­ally pros­e­cuted,” Gold­blatt said.

“There are char­ter val­ues that must be re­spected in the class­room, in the de­liv­ery of the cur­ricu­lum, and it is those val­ues that have been fun­da­men­tally in­fringed.”

In early Au­gust, the di­rec­tor of the Rain­bow District School Board in north­ern On­tario ex­pressed con­cerns that it wasn’t pos­si­ble to re­turn to the old cur­ricu­lum, is­sued in 1998, and said the board’s schools would con­tinue to use the 2015 doc­u­ment.

But later that month, the prov­ince pro­vided all boards an up­dated les­son plan with ad­di­tional ma­te­rial, which Rain­bow adopted and con­tin­ues to teach, a spokes­woman said Wednes­day.

Ex­perts have said that in­terim cur­ricu­lum largely still uses the vague lan­guage and broad topic out­lines used in the 1998 doc­u­ment.

Lawyers for the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment say in writ­ten ar­gu­ments that the cur­rent cur­ricu­lum is pur­posely gen­eral to give teach­ers flex­i­bil­ity to ad­dress top­ics not ex­pressly re­ferred to in the doc­u­ment.

But Gold­blatt said that isn’t the mes­sage the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment has given to teach­ers.

ETFO pres­i­dent Sam Ham­mond said out­side court that teach­ers are fight­ing for stu­dents.

“We are here to­day on be­half of the chil­dren in On­tario pub­lic ele­men­tary schools, who have the right to be taught a cur­rent cur­ricu­lum that stresses safety and in­clu­siv­ity,” he said.

Michael Bryant, head of the CCLA and former Lib­eral at­tor­ney gen­eral, said the gov­ern­ment is not be­ing in­clu­sive of LGBTQ stu­dents.

“What the gov­ern­ment did is it took out any ref­er­ence to a group of Cana­di­ans who are real and who have lives and who de­serve to be in­cluded in this cur­ricu­lum and the only rea­son that they’re be­ing ex­cluded is be­cause the gov­ern­ment thinks that that con­tent is age in­ap­pro­pri­ate and that’s just ho­mo­pho­bic,” he said.

Gov­ern­ment lawyers ar­gue that the Con­sti­tu­tion doesn’t en­trench any par­tic­u­lar cur­ricu­lum and doesn’t set out what sex­ual health top­ics must be taught.

The prov­ince has said it will be writ­ing and test­ing a new cur­ricu­lum through the spring, af­ter look­ing at data from pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions.

An over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of roughly 1,600 sub­mis­sions on the first day of con­sul­ta­tions op­posed the re­peal of the mod­ern­ized sexed cur­ricu­lum, but Ford suggested “cer­tain groups” flooded the process in its early stages. — with a file from Shawn Jef­fords.

POST­MEDIA NET­WORK FILES

A group of stu­dents, par­ents and sup­port­ers sat on the front lawn of the On­tario Leg­is­la­ture to tell the Doug Ford gov­ern­ment they want the new sexed cur­ricu­lum brought back to schools on Sept. 23, 2018. On­tario ele­men­tary teach­ers have taken the gov­ern­ment to court over the prov­ince’s sex-ed cur­ricu­lum in part be­cause of a warn­ing to ed­u­ca­tors that came along with it, their lawyer said Wednes­day.

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