Days after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that the province would be reverting to a sex ed curriculum that was last updated in 1998, replacing the one introduced by the Liberals in 2015, parents, teachers, and advocates across the province are making it clear they won’t make things easy for the new government.
On Friday, NDP leader Andrea Howarth joined organizers at the 519 to speak out against Ford’s decision to scrap the new curriculum — something he’d promised to do since he launched his leadership campaign — and effectively “bring Ontario back to the previous century.”
"Stop catering to your social conservative friends. Stop catering to your social conservative base. Stop trying to drag Ontario back to the 1990s," she said.
The old curriculum, which was updated before social media and before same-sex marriage was legal, makes no mention of gender identity and sexual orientation, online safety as it relates to sex, or consent, and is seen by experts as dangerously outdated.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association announced on Thursday that it was gathering information to challenge the curriculum.
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“Assuming that the policy will look like the 1998 version of the sex ed curriculum, we’d challenge it on the basis that it discriminates against LGBTQ+ people [whose] sexual education was part of the curriculum last year, but this year they no longer exist,” said executive director Michael Bryant. “So that creates stigmatization, degradation, which the courts have in the past found is sufficient to ground a claim under the equality rights in the charter.”
“Of course, the details will be important and exactly what the program looks like, and also how exactly they bring it in is something that we’re monitoring and watching closely.”
If and when the province officially goes back to the old curriculum, the CCLA would either seek a declaration that it’s contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or try to bring an injunction to stop it from replacing the new curriculum, which had also faced backlash from parents who felt it went too far with its lessons.
The CCLA is also looking for teachers to help them make a series of video classes on YouTube as a resource for parents who want their kids to learn the new curriculum on their own.
"I’m sure it’s a dilemma for many, many educators as to what it is they’re going to have to do in the fall."
During the press conference, Horwath also said she’d had similar conversations with teachers.
“I’m sure it’s a dilemma for many, many educators as to what it is they’re going to have to do in the fall,” she said. “They will be required to teach the curriculum that is mandated by the province. Having said that, my understanding is that there are already educators who are trying to figure out how it is that they can provide alternatives in other spaces, to help provide parents with some of the tools that they need to keep their children safe.”
There are those who are making efforts similar to the CCLA independently.
Nadine Thornhill, a sex educator in Toronto, is also trying to preserve the content and make it available through YouTube videos.
“Most people aren’t even sure how to interpret a curriculum document, so I thought that through the videos, I could give people an example of what teaching the various topics actually looks like, what does it sound like, what questions are you asking, what are you actually talking about, what resources do you need to use?” she said in an interview.
Thornhill plans to put out the first video on the Monday after students go back to school, with three videos a week after that.
"I've seen firsthand what a lack of knowledge can do to children that are in vulnerable situations."
A Toronto-based teacher named Leena, who asked her last name not be used to avoid online harassment, is also posting videos online to help parents navigate the new curriculum. On YouTube, she goes by The Crazed Indian Housewife.
“I’m both a parent and a teacher, and I've seen firsthand what a lack of knowledge can do to children that are in vulnerable situations,” she said in an interview, describing it as ““playground intelligence”
Both Leena and Thornhill say they’ve spoken to teachers who plan to incorporate content that will be erased by the old curriculum into their lesson plan — talking about consent when they’re teaching Shakespeare or The Handmaid’s Tale, for example.
“I know a lot of people that I spoke to were talking about how they planned to find ways to integrate the updated information into their classrooms,” said Thornhill. “Not only health and phys ed teachers, but English teachers and social studies teachers, media literacy teachers, who were saying, ‘I will find way a to weave consent into my lesson plan,’ ‘i will find a way to weave gender and sexual orientation into my lesson plan.’”
Cover image: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press