TORONTO – Ontario will launch broad consultations on a new sex-ed curriculum and other education issues in September, the government announced Wednesday, warning that there would be consequences for teachers who use a now-repealed modernized version of the lesson plan when school begins next month.
Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that the consultations will include an online survey, telephone townhalls across the province and a submission platform where the government will accept detailed proposals.
Ford also issued a stark warning to educators who have openly said in recent weeks that they will continue to use the now-scrapped version of the curriculum that was updated by the previous Liberal government in 2015.
“We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games,” Ford said.
“Make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.”
The Progressive Conservatives government’s plan to scrap the modernized sex-ed curriculum was announced last month, fulfilling a campaign promise to get rid of the document. The lesson plan included warnings about online bullying and sexting, but opponents objected to parts addressing same-sex marriage, gender identity and masturbation.
Teachers are expected to use a “revised interim curriculum” for the upcoming school year, the government said.
A public interest committee will be set up through legislation that governs the Ontario College of Teachers to ensure “curriculum-based misconduct issues are fairly dealt with” by the educational regulator.
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The province has also set up a website where parents can report any concerns.
“Our government will be prepared to take regulatory and legislative action to ensure that the rights of parents are protected,” Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement. “Our end goal across all of these activities is simple: create an education system that respects parents while preparing our students for success.”
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The government said its consultations will also seek parental feedback on issues that include math scores, cell phone use, financial literacy and how best to prepare students with needed job skills.
The province’s largest teachers’ unions have promised to defend any educator who continues to use the modernized version of the sex-ed curriculum.
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the government’s handling of the issue is creating “additional anxiety” for teachers as they prepare for the school year.
“This is an absolutely unprecedented approach to policy or curriculum implementation within the education sector, where the release of a curriculum document is accompanied by an implicit or perhaps almost explicit threat of discipline if it’s not followed,” he said, adding the union will continue to advise members to exercise their professional judgment.
Bischof noted that teachers are not employed by the province but by school boards, and it’s the boards who have the power to discipline educators, along with the Ontario College of Teachers. It appears the government is trying to co-opt the college into its process, he said.
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond slammed the move as an attack on educators.
“Doug Ford & the Minister of Ed calling on parents to file complaints against teachers,” Hammond said on social media.
“Unprecedented, outrageous, and shameful! This is a blatant attack on … the profession judgement of teachers.”
Ford had long promised to repeal and replace the sex-ed curriculum and said during the spring election that parents across Ontario told him they wanted more input into the curriculum’s design.
His stance on the issue 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.
But the issue has been a source of controversy every since Ford’s government took power in June, with opposition politicians, school board officials and teachers accusing the government of sending mixed messages on the file.