Premier Doug Ford is warning teachers that there will be consequences if they do not stick to an older Ontario sex ed curriculum until a new one is drafted, and his government has set up a website where parents can lodge complaints against instructors who run afoul.
"We expect our teachers, principals and school board officials to fulfill their obligations to parents and children when it comes to what our students learn in the classroom," Ford said in a press release on Wednesday that simultaneously announced “unprecedented” consultations on what the new curriculum will look like. "We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games. And, make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act."
Ontario will embark on public consultations this fall that will review a host of issues, including how to build a “new age-appropriate Health and Physical Education curriculum that includes subjects like mental health, sex-ed, and legalization of cannabis.” It will also examine ways to improve student performance in science, technology, engineering and math, issues around financial literacy, standardized testing, and cellphone use in classrooms.
This has all been triggered by opposition to the previous Liberal government’s modernized 2015 sex ed curriculum, which was viewed by some socially conservative parents as introducing content that wasn’t age appropriate to children who were too young for it.
Ford made sex ed an election issue, vowing to overhaul it and swiftly took action once he assumed office. That triggered its own backlash from parents and teachers who denounced the dangers of returning to lesson plans that predate social media, and the legalization of same sex marriage, and that they warned would not properly equip children. Some educators went so far as to preserve the Liberal curriculum content by posting videos online that parents could show their children in lieu of classes.
The new Progressive Conservative government said its “interim” sex ed curriculum is the one contained under the 2014 Health and Physical Education curriculum — although the document released is dated 2010. Prior to 2015, the last time the sex ed curriculum was updated was in 1998.
According to the Ford government, students from Grade 1 to 8 will be taught the interim curriculum — the one that was in place in 2014 — as consultations are underway, while high school students will continue to be taught the one introduced by the Liberals.
A cursory search of the interim document online shows there are no mentions of consent, and no content on sexting, anal or oral sex — all of which were being covered in the curriculum updated in 2015.
The curriculum does, however, address gender identity and sexual orientation.
Ontario also announced on Wednesday that it will draft a Ministry of Education Parents’ “Bill of Rights”, after consulting with parents on what they want to see it include. As a first step, the government has launched a website — fortheparents.ca — where parents can report any curriculum-based misconduct concerns.
"Based on the feedback of the Committee, our government will be prepared to take regulatory and legislative action to ensure that the rights of parents are protected," said Education Minister Lisa Thompson. "Our end goal across all of these activities is simple: create an education system that respects parents while preparing our students for success. That's what we were elected to do."
Cover image of Premier Doug Ford. Photo by Chris Young/The Canadian Press