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Parents in Ontario Are Still Pulling Their Kids Out of School Because of Sex Ed

Only half of a Toronto school's 1,460 students showed up to the first day of class this week. The next day, the principal found “shame on you” graffiti etched on the side of the building.
Photo by Daily VICE

Early Thursday morning in a park in Toronto, more than one hundred students were ushered into lines facing the elementary school most of them usually attend.

Loud speakers blasted a triumphant rendition of Canada's national anthem. Adults at the front wearing reflective vests waved their arms up and down to encourage the kids to join in before they made their way to makeshift classrooms under tents, with chalkboards at the front and tarps to sit on.


"We've kind of been forced back to the primitive ways of schooling," one organizer told VICE News. "No cell phones, no distractions here."

It was the third day in a row of parents from a local Muslim community making good on a threat they made to pull their kids out of school in response to the Ontario government's new sex education curriculum.

Changes to the curriculum include teaching students about sexual consent in grade two, masturbation in grade six, and the risks associated with anal and oral sex in grades seven and eight.

Some parents have deemed the new lessons inappropriate and against their religious beliefs. And Thorncliffe Park Public School, in the heart of one of Toronto's most diverse neighborhoods, has become the epicenter of opposition at the start of the new academic year.

Only half of the school's 1,460 students showed up to the first day of class this week. The next day, the principal found "shame on you" graffiti etched on the side of the school. Attendance has been on the rise since, although the group of hardline opponents in the park say they are in it for the long haul.

"We don't feel safe sending our children to the school. They are teaching bad things to our children and making them a confused generation, so that's why we are not feeling safe to send our children back to school," Khalid Mahmood, a facilitator with the Thorncliffe Parents Association, told VICE News. "When we consulted, the doctors, the psychiatrists, they proved that the curriculum will just bring only the mental disorders, making children more sexually active and then, of course, we will be having a generation where the diseases are there."


The whole controversy started in February when Ontario's education minister announced a new sex ed curriculum, which hadn't been updated since 1998 — making it the oldest in Canada. Experts have said the changes now make it the most progressive curriculum in the country.

Khalid Mahmood/photo by Daily VICE

Religious groups and other concerned parents took to the streets in protest, with many calling it "age inappropriate" and others going so far as to say it's a form of child abuse. Protests erupted this spring in front of the provincial legislature building and thousands of kids were pulled out of school. Parents vowed to do the same in the fall if their concerns about the curriculum weren't addressed.

Legislators have said that students can opt out of the lesson, but parents still have to go through their local school board. And in any event, critical parents say it's not enough.

The protest organizers in the park are steadfast that if Ontario's premier doesn't address their concerns, there's no telling when or if their kids will ever go back to public school.

Mahmood says that starting Friday, they will move the classes into their community centres and mosques. "They will not be going back until the curriculum is taken back and the government starts respecting the parents," he said.

Related: Thousands of Canadian Students Are Ditching Class to Protest Their Province's New Sex Ed Curriculum

Other parents at Thorncliffe Park disagree with this tactic. Majeed Khan and his wife stood with their arms crossed after they dropped their two daughters off.


"I just don't understand this. To me, it doesn't make any sense," Khan said. "The way the world has changed, kids need to know about what's happening and the new curriculum can help them. My kids have more access to the internet and there are things when it comes to sex I don't feel comfortable talking about with my young, six-year-old, girl."

"I trust my daughters' teachers to get these important points across, just like I trust them to teach them science and math."

Back at the tent, Urooba Shaikh, 11, told VICE News she hopes she can go back to learning inside a real classroom soon. "I love going to school but I also know that this [sex] education is bad for me and it's not appropriate for my age," she said.

"It's really hard for everyone here. We have to go to so many protests all the time. I just hope our voices are heard."

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne