Parents and educators urge PC government to reconsider sex-ed curriculum rollback
Rachael D'Amore, CTV News Toronto
Published Thursday, July 19, 2018 3:07PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 19, 2018 7:21PM EDT
Dozens of parents, children and teachers rallied outside Queen’s Park this morning, urging Ontario’s PC government to reconsider a rollback of the sexual education curriculum.
Premier Doug Ford’s election promise to repeal the updated curriculum, which the Liberals instated in 2015, became a reality earlier this month when Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that it would be replaced with the 1998 version.
Ford vowed to again consult parents on the curriculum before making any permanent changes. He touted the effort as “the largest consultation ever in Ontario’s history when it comes to education.”
The decision to revert to the decades-old curriculum – which doesn’t once mention sexual orientation or gender identity or issues related to the Internet – sparked outrage from some teachers and parents.
Though Thompson later suggested that topics like gender identity, consent and cyber safety may still be taught this fall, she later clarified, saying no final decision had been made on what would be included.
The change still isn’t sitting well with parents and educators, who have criticized the old curriculum as archaic and dangerous.
“I'm doing my best to teach my daughter but there are things about online dangers that I actually don't know,” rally organizer Joanne O’Sullivan told CTV News Toronto.
“When I read the curriculum -- and I've read all the curriculum -- I was so thankful that somebody had taken the time to keep our children safe like this. I wish all parents taught their children, I genuinely do. I hope more do, I hope they are, but it is unrealistic to believe that we're doing it in the thorough kind of way that is needed to make sure that every child feels safe and included and educated.”
Teachers and education trustees were among many of those who flocked to the front lawn at Queen’s Park on Thursday.
Some educators say the change won’t stop them from providing students with the tools they need to navigate being a young person in the digital age.
“The curriculum is a fairly general document that gives you a lot of guidelines and suggestions,” Toronto teacher Cheryl McConnell said. “But within that, when you're in the classroom and a kid asks you a question, honest answers at an age appropriate level -- that's going to happen no matter what.”
Toronto District School Board’s director of education echoed those sentiments.
Speaking to CTV News Toronto, John Malloy said he expects teachers will continue to talk and answer students’ questions about gender identity and orientation regardless of what curriculum is in place come September.
“(The) curriculum is the expectation we are to follow, and certainly we do that in all our schools, not just in Toronto but across the province, but teachers must ensure that the examples that they use, that the resources that they use, and the learning opportunities include everybody,” he said.
“We know that we have students who may identify as gay or who have families for example who have two moms or two dads – their experience matters. We’re going to continue to be sure that that happens.”
Following the curriculum cancellation announcement, Malloy and TDSB chair Robin Pilkey released a joint statement which assured parents of the board’s responsibility to students is aligned with the Human Rights Code.
Malloy said that while they “don’t actually know the plan” he is confident that teachers will make “informed decisions about how best to teach” students in ways that are “relevant and engaging.”
“I want to be clear – we do follow curriculum. We’re going to follow the curriculum and we’re going to be sure kids learn about bullying, and we understand that the internet is something kids need to be safe around, and we know that kids are potentially questioning gender and orientation and need to be supported,” he said.
“These things won’t stop just because there may be a subtle period of time where we’re not using the curriculum from 2015.”
At the rally, participants read aloud portions of the recently-scrapped curriculum to draw attention to what they’re calling an outdated model.
Among the supporters was Canadian actor and comedian Colin Mochrie, who said the pieces missing from the 1998 curriculum are “big parts of our society” that have long-term value.
“The internet wasn’t a big thing 20 years ago. Cyberbullying is all the rage. There’s nothing about gender or anything about homosexuality and that’s a big part of our society,” he said. “I think the more you learn the more you’ll embrace diversity and different people.”
Some parents say they’re concerned about the alternatives children may lean toward to learn about sex if there isn’t proper guidance in schools.
“I don't want them to learn from pornography. I want them to learn from their educators who can answer their questions and let them feel that they're normal, whatever their questions are... That's what we all worry about secretly,” Jane McClelland said.
“(We want to) empower them to make healthy choices in relationships while teaching about consent. I think it's incredibly important and it's never been more important, I'd say.”