Ontario teachers say government sex-ed curriculum repeal created chilling effect

Click to play video: 'Showdown over Ontario sex-ed curriculum' Showdown over Ontario sex-ed curriculum
The battle over the sexual education curriculum taught in Ontario schools is now being heard in court. Travis Dhanraj reports – Jan 9, 2019

TORONTO – Ontario government lawyers say the repeal of a modernized sex-ed curriculum does not discriminate against an 11-year-old transgender girl challenging the move, arguing teachers can still address topics like gender identity even though such issues are no longer a mandatory part of the lesson plan.

Government lawyers said in closing arguments Friday that the case before Ontario’s human rights tribunal does not prove the province is discriminating against certain students.

READ MORE: Closing arguments underway in Ontario sex-ed curriculum challenge

Michael Dunn said the teachers can use their own professional judgment and include issues like gender identity during lessons without requiring specific curriculum instructions on the topics.

“Inclusivity is baked in,” Dunn said, adding that school boards, administrators and teachers are given a broad mandate by the province to teach in that way.

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Lawyers for an elementary teachers’ union, however, said that educators have been reluctant to address issues like gender identity in the classroom ever since the curriculum repeal.

“The government has created a climate of fear, a chill, or at the very least confusion, over what is permissible to teach,” said Adriel Weaver, a lawyer for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

The government has also not issued a formal directive to teachers on how to address issues like gender identity with students and that makes doing so “a professionally risky endeavour,” she said.

The case before the tribunal was launched in August by the sixth-grader identified only as AB, and focuses on the impact of the curriculum repeal on LGBTQ students.

READ MORE: Transgender girl says Ontario sex-ed repeal made her nervous about returning to school

Lawyers for the girl have said the government has put their client at a disadvantage since gender identity is no longer a mandatory part of the curriculum. They’ve asked that the scrapped version of the document be reinstated while a new lesson plan is developed.

Dunn said the interim curriculum brought in last year, which is based on a version from 1998, was not negatively affecting the girl’s schooling.

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“There is no link between the 2018 curriculum document and any negative impact on AB’s education,” he said.

The Progressive Conservative government announced last summer that it was scrapping the updated version of the curriculum brought in by the previous Liberal regime in 2015.

That document included warnings about online bullying and sexting, but opponents, especially social conservatives, objected to the parts of the plan addressing same-sex marriage, gender identity and masturbation.

READ MORE: Doug Ford says Ontario teachers could face consequences for teaching repealed sex ed

A new curriculum is currently being developed.

Lawyers for the elementary teachers’ union said the curriculum repeal, combined with a government website that allows parents to report teachers they feel are not complying with the lesson plan, have contributed to anxiety amongst educators.

Government lawyer Estee Garfin told the tribunal that the government website was never used to refer a teacher to the regulatory body that polices educators for disciplinary action.

READ MORE: Doug Ford says he won’t proceed with gender identity proposal from PC convention

“There is no evidence any teachers were disciplined as a result of a submission to the website,” she said.

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The tribunal is expected to decide on the case in the spring.

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