Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s decision to return the province to the sex-ed curriculum created in the 1990s – which doesn’t include topics like same-sex marriage or cybersafety – is being slammed by education experts who say the move is regressive and puts students at risk.
Sarah Flicker, an assistant professor at York University, said the curriculum update in 2015 under the former Liberal government was based on consultations with thousands of parents, community members, and experts to create a modernized and developmentally appropriate framework based on diversity and keeping young people safe.
“Rolling back the health curriculum to 1998 is just enraging,” said Flicker, who specializes in adolescent health. “It leaves so many young people without the important information they need about cyberbullying, about consent, about the internet, about LGBTQ youth who need safety and support.”
Flicker said these issues need to be talked about in school as many parents aren’t having those conversations at home.
“We live in a different age than we lived in 1998 and cyberbullying is a real thing,” she said. “We’ve seen across Canada … suicide as a result of cyberbullying. Imagine saying ‘this isn’t a problem.’ It’s dangerous and it’s not dealing with the realities of what we know is happening for young people.”
Ford made good on a campaign pledge Wednesday to scrap the updated lesson plans which have been fiercely opposed by social conservatives and faith-based groups as they cover subject matter like same-sex relationships, sexual consent, gender identity, and masturbation.
“The sex-ed component is going to be reverted back to the manner in which it was prior to the changes that were introduced by the Liberal government,” Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson said Wednesday to reporters. “We’re going to be moving very swiftly with our consultations and I will be sharing with your our process in the weeks to come.”
As students head back to school in September, they will be taught a curriculum that was developed before the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada and predates smartphones, social media and online bullying. In 1998, Google had just been founded and Mel Lastman was the mayor of the newly amalgamated city of Toronto.
“This curriculum was trying to address really early on that we don’t bully kids regardless of differences, any kind of differences, sexual orientation, race, religion, and to just remove all of that context from the curriculum puts kids at risk,” she said.
Here are some of the major changes in the new health curriculum that the PCs opposed:
- Grade 1 students were taught the proper names for body parts, a move which had long been advocated for by child-abuse investigators. Grade 2 students were taught about changes to the body during puberty and the concept that “no means no.”
- Grade 3 and 4 students learned about same-sex relationships and the dangers of online bullying and the posting of sexual images.
- Grade 6 students learned about masturbation, gender expression and consent.
- Grade 7 students were taught about the risks of “sexting” and about sexually transmitteddiseases and informed about oral and anal sex.
- Grade 8 students were taught about the gender spectrum: male, female, two-spirited, transgender, transsexual and intersex.
Farrah Khan, manager of Ryerson University’s Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education, said the older model of teaching sex-ed focused largely on pregnancy, condom use and sexually transmitted infections while failing to address important topics like consent, gender and sexuality.
“I don’t think this is helpful for many people, because what it doesn’t do is talk about the necessity of actually preventing and addressing sexual violence,” Khan said. “There are kids with parents who are LGBTQ, there are kids who are LGBTQ. That doesn’t start magically at the ages of 12 or 15. People have diverse families and communities and we need to talk about that.”
REALITY CHECK: Doug Ford’s problem with the sex-ed curriculum
The move was also opposed by Ontario’s two largest teachers’ unions — the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario — which said that parents and educators were consulted extensively before the curriculum was updated.
“Given the amount of input teachers, experts and parents had in the update, any new consultations are likely to give a similar result,” Sam Hammond, president of the ETFO, said. He encouraged parents to call on Thompson to save the updated curriculum.
WATCH: Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum (2015)
Some groups celebrated Ford’s announcement including the Campaign Life Coalition, which opposes abortion rights.
“We are very happy to see the radical sex curriculum repealed,” said CLC national president Jim Hughes in a statement. “We look forward to the genuine consultations with parents and hope that Wynne’s ideological agenda will be scrapped completely.”
The Thorncliffe Parents Association praised the PCs “for listening to parents’ voices and officially repealing the controversial curriculum.”
“It was basically a test of good and bad,” the association said in a Facebook post. “We are proud of ourselves to be a part of this movement that was run by common parents.”
For Flicker, she said the move was based on a campaign of misinformation and fear that could have far-reaching consequences.
“If people actually took a close look and read of the curriculum and what is actually happening at different age levels, they would see it’s appropriate. That it’s necessary and it’s vital for keeping our kids safe.”
— With a file from the Canadian Press