The 2018 Ontario election campaign has breathed new life into the wildfire of controversy Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne set in motion when she made the decision to update the sex-ed curriculum taught in elementary schools across the province.
The Liberal government released the details of the revamped sex-ed curriculum in February 2015. The updates represented the first changes to the curriculum since 1998.
Under the new curriculum, which extends to Roman Catholic schools, students will be taught about certain aspects of sexual health and sexuality at a younger age. Children will be introduced to the issue of consent, for example, as young as six years old – and conversations about puberty will now happen in Grade 4, instead of Grade 5.
Specifically, students will be introduced to or taught about the following at each grade level:
- Grade 1: the proper names for body parts (carried over from the old curriculum); exploitative behaviours and feelings
- Grade 2: the body changes that accompany physical development
- Grade 3: same-sex relationships
- Grade 4: the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty; bullying and abuse; and safe use of technology and the internet
- Grade 5: reproductive system; menstruation and sperm production; stresses in puberty; emotional well-being
- Grade 6: masturbation; stereotypes and assumptions; personal identity (including gender identity and body image)
- Grades 7 and 8: anal and oral sex; contraception; prevention of sexually transmitted diseases; sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression; dangers of sexting; sources of sexual health supports
At the time, Wynne’s education minister insisted the updates brought Ontario in line with other provinces. A comparison of sex-ed curricula across Canada by Global News showed that to be the case.
Since being elected leader of the Progressive Conservative party, Doug Ford has vowed to scrap and replace the Liberals’ updates to the curriculum, if he is elected premier. Ford pledged to bring back the old curriculum until his party has a crafted a new “age-appropriate” document to take its place.
What is Ford’s beef with the updated sex-ed curriculum?
Substantively, we don’t really know.
When asked to identify the aspects of the updated sex-ed curriculum he sees as problematic, Ford has refrained from delving into specifics – only insisting that Ontario parents weren’t consulted enough ahead of the changes. But on a few occasions, he has said parents were not consulted, full stop, and that he can “guarantee it.”
“For too long the Liberals have ignored Ontario parents,” Ford said Tuesday in Toronto. “They have introduced the sex curriculum based on ideology.”
His promised course of action, however, has evolved slightly. During the PC leadership race, Ford promised to “revisit” or “review” not only sex ed but all aspects of Ontario’s curriculum.
Two days after winning the leadership, Ford announced he would repeal the sex-ed curriculum altogether, but that it wouldn’t be a major priority for a PC government. He reiterated that promise Tuesday – days after stripping former leadership rival Tanya Granic Allen, a social conservative vocal opponent of the curriculum, of her candidacy.
Did consultation with parents happen or not?
In the fall of 2014, the provincial government said it would survey about 4,000 parents ahead of drafting the new document, which works out to approximately one parent per publicly funded elementary school. More specifically, those parents – plucked from school councils – would be asked about the appropriate ages to introduce sensitive sexual health topics and “trusted sources for health information.”
WATCH: Doug Ford speaks to 640 Toronto’s Alex Pierson about Ontario’s sex education curriculum, promising to “consult with parents.” (Jan. 31, 2018)
(The ministry confirmed to CBC News that it did not select the parents to be surveyed. On top of that, Wynne insists the government also went beyond parents and gathered input from dozens of child development professionals, mental health sexual health organizations, parent groups and police.)
In the face of Ford’s renewed accusations, Wynne has maintained those thousands of parents were surveyed.
So, unless someone proves the online surveys were all a ruse – and Wynne and the Ontario Ministry of Education are peddling lies – it’s technically false to say the updated sex-ed curriculum was put together without any input from parents.
People can, however, split hairs over the contents of that survey and whether the survey on its own constituted enough consultation with parents.
This elementary school teacher at a Catholic school, for example, alleges in a 2015 op-ed for the Guelph Mercury that the survey “allowed a mere 30 characters of feedback per parent.”
“That’s about six words,” Georgine Willemsma wrote.
The Ontario teacher also argued that the questions asked in the government survey were “general” in nature. She suggested that proper consultation would have involved parents in the writing of the updates and also “showing” the updated document before releasing it.
She also pointed to one media report from 2014 that paraphrased then-education minister Liz Sandals as saying it’s unlikely the survey results would lead to any “direct changes to the curriculum.”
To say the provincial government didn’t seek input on elementary sex-ed from Ontario parents isn’t accurate. A more legitimate concern, though, is the extent to which those 4,000 parents were consulted and how seriously the government considered their feedback.
— With files from the Canadian Press