Jake Romphf and Tara Jeffrey
Local education leaders are hoping the school year will launch smoothly despite a series of controversial moves by Ontario’s Conservative government, regarding changes to the sexual health curriculum.
“The curriculum, as it was in existence, was working fine,” said Lambton-Kent District School Board director Jim Costello, referring to the former Liberal government’s modernized sex-ed curriculum released in 2015, recently scrapped by the newly elected Doug Ford government. “It provided a great opportunity for teachers to talk about equality, to recognize LGBTQ students, and to deal with any issue that might arise.”
Last week, the government released an interim Health and Physical Education curriculum for teachers to use instead, which is largely similar to an older version of the curriculum, which was last updated in 1998, a version that has no mention of issues like social media, online safety, consent, and gender identity issues.
“We have an obligation under the Human Rights Code to provide a safe and accepting classroom for everyone… and at the same time, we have an obligation to teach this [interim] curriculum, that’s been posted,” said Costello. “So we’ll have to take a look at that and see where we can bridge the gap, and still allow our teachers to deal with issues like same-sex marriage and consent,” which are not included in the outdated version.
He said program and curriculum leaders will be working with staff to provide supports and resources to address issues and concerns.
“The issue of equality, of consent, the appropriate inclusion of sexual health curriculum and choice is paramount to any student in 2018.”
The 1998 curriculum also doesn’t cover mental health, a topic that’s been a top priority for the board in recent years.
“Mental health and anxiety are the leading impediments to student achievement,” he said. “It’s very difficult for students to succeed it they don’t feel included, or represented.”
The PCs say province-wide consultations – including online surveys, telephone town halls and feedback platforms – will begin in the fall, before a new curriculum is drafted.
Ford also announced the rollout of a website where parents can report teachers who continue to teach the modernized, 2015 version of the sex-ed curriculum in their classrooms.
“That’s where I think there’s a lot of uncertainty right now,” Costello said of the so-called ‘snitch line.’ “The relationship between teacher and parent is critical to student success. We’d prefer that if a parent is concerned about what’s being taught, that they talk to the teacher or principal, rather than a complaint line.
“We don’t really know where that even leads to.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association is taking the government to court over its repeal of the modernized curriculum, citing discrimination against the LGBTQ community.
“We will be watching closely,” Costello said.