What’s in and what’s out of Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum remains to be seen, but it’s all up for debate.
The Progressive Conservative government under Premier Doug Ford is repealing the 2015 sex-ed curriculum, introduced by the Liberals, and reverting back to the old version, originally penned in 1998, and what was taught leading up to the implementation of the 2015 curriculum.
“We are only going back to where we were in 2014 and then consulting parents widely,” Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey told BarrieToday, Thursday morning.
“I have been talking to several parents,” he added. “They are glad they will get a chance to give input. We are following through on the campaign commitment and the consultations will be broad.”
Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin noted there’s also a provision where teachers can tweak elements in the rolled-back curriculum.
“It’s important to note that the 2014 version of the curriculum does allow for professional judgment on behalf of the teacher,” Khanjin told BarrieToday, Thursday afternoon. “Deemed on the students that have, they are able to use their discretion. I think that’s an important part that’s been missing from this debate.”
Khanjin said she’s not a teacher, so she didn’t want to speculate on exactly what that could include.
The old curriculum, used from 1998 to 2014, was 42 pages long and didn’t discuss topics such as same-sex marriage, consent, gender identity and internet safety.
The curriculum introduced by the Liberals in 2015 was more than 200 pages and addressed modern issues such as LGBT rights and the pervasiveness of social-media.
Critics have said the 1998 curriculum does not include many modern themes that children need to know about, such online safety and same-sex marriage.
The Rally for Sex Ed taking place Friday in downtown Barrie should see many of those topics raised.
“We need to continue to hold the government accountable on this discussion,” said Brandon Rheal Amyot, who’s organizing the rally, set for 7 p.m. at Meridian Place. “It’s very important to note that there are still no concrete plans in place… as to what that will look like in application.
“We still need to continue this advocacy and make sure all of those important pieces that were in the 2015 curriculum stay in the curriculum,” Amyot added.
The Orillia resident is president of Fierte Simcoe Pride, but the rally is being organized outside of that group.
Amyot hopes the rally brings people together.
“This is something we can work on across party lines. Our hope is that, through this rally, we may convince some local MPPs to stand up and say ‘I support this curriculum and I’m going to defend LGBT, youth and kids in Simcoe County and across Ontario’,” Amyot said.
Earlier this week, Education Minister Lisa Thompson released a statement in an attempt to clarify the situation.
“As of today, we have made no decisions on what the new curriculum will look like,” she said. “The final decision on the scope of the new curriculum will be based on what we hear from Ontario parents.”
The old curriculum “leaves ample space to discuss current social issues,” Thompson added.
It’s unclear how topics such as consent, cyber safety and gender identity will be handled in schools.
“I don’t think those are things that are negotiable, to be honest,” Amyot said. “Those things are crucial, especially in childhood development; those are things kids need to be learning about.
“They’re already exposed to it, but a lot of them don’t have the language or the skills without education to be able to understand what’s going on with their body, in their relationships and in how they’re interacting in the online world,” Amyot added.
MUDDYING THE WATERS
Amyot said the information coming out of Queen’s Park this week has muddied the waters.
“We’re all on the same boat. It’s really unclear where the government stands on the curriculum as a whole,” Amyot said.
The 22-year-old, who grew up in the Barrie and Midhurst areas, was educated under the old curriculum, which had too many voids.
“As an LBGT person, I really struggled understanding if I was normal and if who I was was OK,” Amyot said. “It gave me a very lost feeling, and that can really impact mental health, interactions with other students and with people because you don’t know how your relationship works.”
Amyot says education around online safety is paramount, adding children need to know about things such as privacy settings on social media, as well as sexuality and consent.
“Kids as young as my brothers, who are in elementary school, are on the internet now,” Amyot said. “We need to be able to prepare them for what that entails.
WORD ON THE STREET
“In my discussions with parents and residents in Barrie-Innisifl, they’ve been pretty loud in their opinion about the age-appropriateness of the curriculum,” Khanjin said. “I think a lot of parents and a lot of newcomers to our area have struggled with the new content, which they deemed as not age-appropriate.
“Parents that have been in the community for a number of years also feel that their voice has not been heard and they were not consulted,” she said, adding only a very small amount of people were consulted. “We need to make sure we consult all parents.”
Khanjin said only a small fragment of Ontarians had a say in the 2015 curriculum.
“It’s critical to consult all parents and communities on this change,” Khanjin said. “It’s important that we’re looking at all points of view.”
Thompson says public consultation, which could begin in the fall, will be “one of the most robust … in the history of Ontario’s education system.”
Amyot understands the government seeking more public consultation, “but we need to make sure youths aren’t being left behind in the meantime.”
Amyot believes consultation should come before any curriculum changes, leaving the 2015 version in place.
“It seems like they’re working backwards,” Amyot said. “I’m a little surprised they would announce a repeal without something that’s equipped to replaced it until further consultation.”
Thompson said people shouldn’t be surprised by the curriculum changes.
“During the recent election campaign we made a clear promise to replace the entirety of Ontario’s current sex-ed curriculum with an age-appropriate one that is based on real consultation with parents,” she said. “When Ontario voters chose their new government, they did so knowing that this was our intended course of action.”
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
Retired PC politician Garfield Dunlop, who served as the MPP in Simcoe North from 1999 until 2015, said he envisions teachers using the older curriculum with tweaks to reflect a more technologically advanced world.
“The teachers today are already fully aware of what’s going on,” he told BarrieToday. “I would expect a lot of teachers will just pick up with the social-media aspect of it. That’s just a foregone conclusion.”
Dunlop said it should be “easy” for teachers to pick up on the old curriculum circa 2014.
“The teachers are already used to it,” he said. “But it’s a very important topic and the (PC) party has to come across as being very inclusive, too.”
However, he admits the old curriculum is based on a long-gone world.
“In 1998, no one had a cellphone hardly,” Dunlop said. “And now, everyone has a computer in their pocket.”
The PCs are hanging their hats on public consultation, which Dunlop said was clearly lacking leading up to the Liberal curriculum coming into effect in 2015.
“Make sure the teachers are involved, all different religions and that all types of people are included in the hearings,” he said. “I think it can be a real winner for (Ford).
“Do the consultation and come back with some maintenance to the curriculum that they’d like to see,” Dunlop added. “They’d look like they’ve done a far better job than the Liberals have done.”
However, as education critic, Dunlop said he spoke to many teachers and their associations in 2014.
“Nobody had a problem with the curriculum,” he said. “The only people I had issues with were the social conservatives who phoned every day and inundated my constituency office with email messages and tied up all the telephone lines for about two or three days.
“And then it was all over after that.”
- With files from Canadian Press