TORONTO—Throughout the protestations and comments during question period regarding the new Ontario government’s scrapping of the 2015 sex-education curriculum, the message from Premier Doug Ford has been consistent: The province will consult parents before deciding what should or shouldn’t be taught to their children on this controversial subject.
The curriculum brought in by the previous Liberal government in 2015 was seen as problematic by many parents who found the extent of the teachings diverging too far from their own values.
The 2015 curriculum includes topics related to sexting and cyberbullying—issues not covered by the previous curriculum in place since 1998. But it also includes subjects many parents don’t want their children learning about in a way decided by the authors of the curriculum, such as talking about masturbation and presenting it as a normal activity and “one way of learning about your body.”
The previous government had tried to change the curriculum once before in 2010 under then-premier Dalton McGuinty, but the plan was abandoned as a result of protests from parents worried about the contents. After Kathleen Wynne became premier, however, she went ahead with bringing in a new curriculum covering controversial topics, despite the same concerns remaining for the parents.
The protests that ensued even saw thousands of children going “on strike” over the new curriculum. Some parents went as far as permanently pulling their children from the public school system, with enrolment in the Toronto District School Board dropping by 2,000 after the new curriculum came into effect.
Among the many campaign promises Ford made when running for premier was getting rid of the new curriculum, a promise he fulfilled soon after taking office. Ford’s government mandated schools to go back to the curriculum in place before the 2015 one while his government prepares to conduct the “largest consultation ever in Ontario’s history when it comes to education.”
Those speaking out against scrapping the 2015 curriculum have been very vocal, with some parents and teachers saying it should be kept since it contains topics they find important to the safety of children.
Both the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario oppose scrapping the 2015 curriculum. The latter is the union that urged school boards to remove the name of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, from public schools, an idea the majority of Canadians and Ontarians are against, according to a poll by the Angus Reid Institute last year.
Some teachers have insisted they will simply keep teaching the 2015 curriculum, and one school board is even seeking legal advice to see whether there would be any consequences if teachers taught parts of the curriculum.
This doesn’t sit well with education lawyer Harris Rosen of Harris Rosen Professional Corporation and education law counsel to Fogler Rubinoff LLP, who says directions set by the government need to be respected.
“The people of the province of Ontario elected our government. Subject only to any new proposed legislation (or the administration of that legislation) clearly colliding with other statutes or fundamental rights, those new laws and the policies that flow therefrom should be respected,” he said in an email.
Rosen, who describes himself as being of Jewish faith and God-fearing but “anything but religious,” says he welcomes “new policies which get the government out of our bedrooms.”
“This is a personal view, and I am speaking as much as a father of three children–ages 7, 7, and 10–as I am [as] an education lawyer.”
Christina Liu of the Parents Alliance of Ontario says being aware of safety considerations is important.
“Now that the internet is developed, children will have to face all sorts of interference. Parents welcome this type of education provided to students by schools.”
However, she doesn’t agree with the 2015 curriculum, saying that parts of it “mislead children” and many parents find numerous aspects of it unacceptable.