TORONTO – People across Ontario will be consulted before a new sex-education curriculum is drafted, Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday in an attempt to quell concerns over his government’s controversial decision to scrap the updated lesson plan.
The newly elected Progressive Conservatives were accused of flip-flopping on the issue Monday after the education minister said in the legislature that concepts like gender identity, consent and cyber safety would still be taught in the fall only to backtrack on her comments hours later.
Ford had pledged to repeal and replace the curriculum, which the Liberals updated in 2015, and his government said last week that when students return to class this fall they will be taught a version of the curriculum introduced in 1998, sparking anger from some teachers and parents who say that document is outdated.
“We’re going to hit 124 ridings,” he said, calling it “the largest consultation ever in Ontario’s history when it comes to education.”
Ford also attempted to allay concerns from critics that reverting back to the old curriculum means important issues like cyber safety, gender identity and consent wont’ be taught, putting children at risk.
“I think everyone is going to be pleasantly surprised,” he said. “I really do. I don’t think this is the end of the world. I think it’s actually healthy. When it comes to teaching our kids, we have to consult with the parents.”
Ford said that during the spring election parents across Ontario told him they wanted more input into the curriculum’s design.
“We want to go and consult with the parents and get their input,” he said. “Then we’ll move forward with changing the curriculum.”
Ford’s opposition to the new sex-ed curriculum during the Progressive Conservative leadership race earlier this year won him the support of social conservatives within the party base, helping him to victory over longtime Tory legislator and current health minister Christine Elliott.
WATCH: Ford says will consult with parents on sex-ed in ‘rapid fashion’
NDP legislator Peter Tabuns said the reason the Ford government is replacing the curriculum is to please social conservatives.
“Look at who (Premier Ford’s) backers are,” he said. “We’re talking about some very deeply conservative, social conservative thinkers who think we should be back in the 19th century or earlier.”
Going backwards, Tabuns said, puts children at risk.
Meanwhile, a group of teachers have started an online pledge form, urging fellow educators to sign up and promise to continue to teach the updated version of the curriculum in their classrooms this fall.
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Kate Curtis, speaking for the group who created the pledge, said the teachers are acting out of a sense of moral and ethical duty to their students.
“We as teachers know that we have a professional and ethical obligation to make sure that our students are safe, that they feel included both in our classrooms and also that they’re reflected in the curriculum.”
Curtis said the 1998 curriculum does not reflect the reality of a teenager’s life in 2018 and does not accurately reference cyber safety, consent or gender identity.
“The world has changed immensely in the last 20 years,” she said. “Students are reflecting that change at school … we really have to reflect that.”
Two top officials at Canada’s largest school board said Tuesday that they have not received any direction from the Ontario government regarding the sex-ed curriculum that will be taught this fall.
In a joint statement, Toronto District School Board chair Robin Pilkey and director of education John Malloy said that since the provinces’ announcement last week, they have received questions and heard concerns from parents, staff and students.
Regardless of the which version of the curriculum is taught in September, the board has a responsibility to students that is guided by the Human Rights Code, provincial legislation that governs schools and its own policies, the statement said.
“When we know who our students are, we can make informed decisions about how to best teach them in ways that are relevant and engaging,” the statement said. “This means that learning about real-world topics relevant to today’s students will continue in the classroom and teachers will be supported to do this. This remains a priority in the TDSB.”