In July, the Doug Ford government confirmed it would repeal the 2015 Kathleen Wynne’s sex-ed program, fulfilling a leadership and campaign promise to rescind the controversial curriculum while the government carried out a new, inclusive consultation process. The rollout was botched, with no details of what the consultations would look like and Education Minister Lisa Thompson initially telling reporters that the full curriculum was repealed but later saying teachers would provide instruction on consent and gender theory in elementary schools in accordance with the curriculum that was ostensibly repealed. After a series of clarifications about what would and would not be taught beginning in September, including sometimes contradictory directions, not only were educators and parents confused, but so, too, it seemed was the government. It was surprising to see the most coherent answers to criticism of the Ford policy coming from Health Minister Christine Elliott, who has said the 2015 curriculum should stay. In the legislature, she answered questions from the NDP saying that many parents consider the instructions to be age-inappropriate and that teachers will not completely ignore issues like consent or transgender identification, but might address them as appropriate with individual students privately, rather than as part of classroom lessons.
There is little doubt that most Progressive Conservative MPPs have little stomach to tackle the controversial content of the Wynne sex-ed curriculum. To many, it seems that repealing elements of the curriculum for a year while going through the motions of a new consultation with parents fulfills the leader’s promise to voters concerned about the curriculum. And some pro-family and religious leaders made the mistake of focusing their complaints about the curriculum on the process by which it came about rather than the content of classroom instruction it pushes.
Campaign Life Coalition and Parents as First Educators talked about the problems with consultations (the province’s 4000 schools each designated just one parent to answer an open-ended online questionnaire, while the government consulted with “stakeholders” who have long promoted the idea that sexual activity is liberating) and the rights of parents as the primary educators of their children, but they also focused on the morally dubious content of the curriculum. Problems with the content that CLC, PAFE, and some others had, included teaching about same-sex relationships in Grade 3, gender theory and masturbation in Grade 6, contraception in Grade 7, and the encouragement of students to create personal sex plans for their future. But many PC politicians only heard the complaints about consultations (the process), not the content (the principles), despite the fact that former PC leadership contender Tanya Granic Allen forced the issue of sex-ed into the public consciousness by repeatedly noting that the idea of anal sex was presented to 10-year-olds in schools under the Wynne curriculum.
There is no doubt that the Doug Ford government is facing a heated battle over the temporary repeal for the 2018/19 school year, while the Ministry of Education conducts a new round of consultations. Pro-sex ed activists and opposition politicians and a sycophantic press are complaining that the repeal means that elementary school children will not learn about consent in the #MeToo era, or about the dangers of sexting and online pornography. But it is assumed by these activists that children who are not even in their teens need to learn about consent rather than healthy relationships and abstinence. The curriculum does not warn against the sexting – sending sexual or nude photos of oneself, usually to boyfriends/girlfriends – as much as suggest that pre-teens be responsible with whom they sext. As for the talking point that the curriculum being reverted to for the new school year is from 1998 and thus has precious little about the internet, there is absolutely no mention of any kind of pornography, online or otherwise.
The public school teachers unions such as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, as well as a number of school boards have said they will support teachers who stick with the now-repealed curriculum.
By late August, the PC government had developed a plan on how to move forward on the issue. They announced consultations would take place online and in telephone townhalls “in every region of Ontario,” but provided no schedule for consultations. The consultations will also seek feedback on other educational issues such as math scores, cell phone use, and financial literacy.
Education Minister Thompson did, however, announce a website for parents to report concerns about what is being taught in the classroom. Although complaints need not be limited to sex-ed instruction, critics called the website a “snitch-line” on teachers who continue teaching the Wynne curriculum. Ford said in a statement, “we will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games.” He added, “make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.” Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation accused Ford of “turning classrooms into an ideological battleground.”
There were hints that the government is moving in the right direction on content. The August 22 announcement used the words “age-appropriate” in describing their goal for a new curriculum.
The NDP have repeatedly said the PCs are playing politics with the lives of LGBQT students, ominously but without evidence predicting children will die. Leader Andrea Horwath has said the only reason Ford is repealing the sex-ed curriculum is to satisfy the “socially conservative base” of Tanya Granic Allen voters.
Parents as First Educators had collected more 10,000 signatures in ten days in mid-August to press the Ford government for full repeal and proper consultations. Granic Allen, who returned to head PAFE after running for the leadership, said she is pleased the Ford government seems to respect parental rights and is drafting a Ministry of Education Parents’ Bill of Rights. She called on it to have teeth, with “a guarantee of proper notification so (parents) rights to ‘opt out’ of sex-ed classes can be possible.” She also insisted that “gender identity theory” completely cease being taught, saying there is no effective repeal if it remains as part of the temporary curriculum this school year.
The next step for pro-family groups is encouraging their supporters to take part in the consultations to articulate their concerns as parents, grandparents, and ratepayers that objectionable and explicit sexual content be permanently removed from the curriculum. Jeff Gunnarson, vice president of Campaign Life Coalition, told The Interim, “the Doug Ford government must hear, loud and clear, that his voters do not want any part of the curriculum that encourages sexual activity or promotes questionable and unscientific gender theories to return to Ontario’s classrooms.”