WATCH ABOVE: There is a growing backlash among parent groups over the new Ontario sex education curriculum. Christina Stevens reports.
TORONTO – Lobbyists and opposition politicians are worried concerned parents didn’t get enough input into Ontario’s revamped sexual education curriculum.
The provincial government released an outline of the new sex ed curriculum Monday morning; the first revamp since 1998.
“Smartphones, Snapchat and sexting were not familiar to anyone, let alone students,” education minister Liz Sandals said during a morning press conference.
But some parents are concerned about the apparent lack of consultation.
“We want that to be modified with the consultation of parents,” Jotvinder Sidhu, a father of two kids and president of the Homeowners Welfare Association said.
“Let the parents review, digest the information, and let them come back to you with proposed changes.”
The curriculum is the provincial government’s second attempt to update its 18-year-old sex ed curriculum: Then-Premier Dalton McGuinty backed off a 2010 curriculum update in the face of vocal opposition from some groups.
Four thousand parents across the province were asked by their child’s school principal to fill in a survey about the new curriculum. Other parents were able to contact the ministry directly to express any concerns.
“I’m objecting first and foremost because the parents were completely cut out of this process,” Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton told reporters at Queen’s Park.
“The process was a complete farce. I’ve said that a number of times. The education minister constantly talks about consulting with experts and the industry but not once does she mention talking to parents about this issue.”
McNaughton urged the government to do more consultation before the curriculum is taught in September. “Nothing’s ever a done deal.”
But education minister Sandals doesn’t seem inclined to make changes, telling reporters the curriculum unveiled Monday will be in schools, as is, in September. She also suggested that parents who remain disconcerted are allowed to pull their children from the lesson.
‘We don’t think that’s the purview of the government’
“Talking about STDs and other information in health class, that again is appropriate, but this curriculum change actually, as I said, takes us from discussing sex to discussing how to have sex,” Johanne Brownrigg, a lobbyist for Christian anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition said in an interview.
The curriculum teaches a wide variety of subjects earlier than it had; proper terminology for body parts in Grade 1, consent in Grade 2, same-sex relationships in Grade 3, masturbation and gender expression in Grade 6, and contraception, STIs, anal, and oral sex in Grade 7 and 8.
“Body parts being introduced, not vagina and penis, but what about clitoris, and vulva and the notions of anal sex in grade 8? Are these really necessary introductions into the adult world of human sexuality?” she said.
“We’ve basically have gone into a change where we changed talking about sex and transformed it into talking about having sex. We don’t think that’s the purview of the government.”
Brownrigg also claimed elementary school isn’t the proper place to teach kids about gender identity.
But University of Toronto social work professor Faye Mishna said it’s important the curriculum reflect the children who are being taught.
“If people are talking about it, it means that they don’t have to be so isolated,” she said. “The message is you can go and talk to the teacher about it, you can go talk to somebody about it and they can help you sort that out without just assuming its bad and has to be hidden.”
Sandals added that many of these subjects are already in the curriculum. Kids are now being taught the subjects at a younger age to coincide with the falling age at which people are hitting puberty.
“What Children’s Aid tells us, what Public Health tells us, is that children need to know how to communicate the parts of their body in the event that, god help us, they’re being abused. Or, if they’ve got an illness, they need to describe what’s wrong and where it hurts.”
Brownrigg said teaching kids about consent is an attempt to usher in “graphic and age-inappropriate context to the children.”
“No parent wants their child to be vague on consent. That’s an absurd proposition. We don’t need the schools, we don’t need the teachers, and we don’t need Liz Sandals to teach our children about consent,” she said.
An explicit conversation about consent and healthy relationships as dictated by the new curriculum could make Ontario the most progressive in Canada, Sandals said.
Parents have been asking the ministry to teach students about consent, she said.
“One of the things we heard when we talked to parents was parents want us to talk to kids about consent and appropriate behaviour and the fact that no means no and that only yes means yes.”
What do you think of Ontario’s new sex education curriculum? Let us know in the form below.
– With files from Christina Stevens and Alan Carter