The Ontario government says it has released an interim sex-ed curriculum for elementary school teachers to use this September, and Premier Doug Ford is suggesting there will be consequences if they don’t adhere to it.
The Progressive Conservative government issued a news release about the changes on Wednesday afternoon, while also announcing plans for what it called an “unprecedented” provincewide consultation process on education reform and a future parents’ bill of rights.
A government backgrounder urges any parent who believes a teacher is “jeopardizing their child’s education by deliberately ignoring Ontario’s curriculum” to alert the Ontario College of Teachers’ investigations department.
The Ford government has faced sharp criticism from a number of groups — including teachers’ unions, many parents and the Official Opposition — over its decision to scrap the modernized sex-ed curriculum brought in by the former Liberal government in 2015, which included information about online bullying, sexting and gender identity.
The government’s news release says teachers will use the 2014 health and physical education curriculum, which critics have blasted, as the guidelines have been in place since 1998, predating smartphones, social media and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The interim curriculum has now been posted online.
Simon Jefferies, Ford’s spokesperson, said only students in Grades 1 to 8 will be taught the interim curriculum.
“The high school health and physical education curriculum is not changing in the interim consultation period,” he said in an email to CBC News.
Ford appears to be taking a hard line about what will be taught when classes resume.
Teachers’ union still has questions
“We expect our teachers, principals and school board officials to fulfil their obligations to parents and children when it comes to what our students learn in the classroom,” Ford said in the news release.
“We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games. And, make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.”
The province’s largest teachers’ unions have promised to defend any educator who continues to use the modernized curriculum.
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, attacked Ford’s request that parents alert the authorities if their child is being taught the modernized curriculum. He called the move “unprecedented, outrageous, and shameful” in a tweet.
Doug Ford & the Minister of Ed calling on parents to file complaints against Teachers. Unprecedented, outrageous, and shameful! This is a blatant attack on the professionalism, the profession judgement, of teachers.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/shame?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#shame</a> @<a href=”https://twitter.com/ETFOeducators?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@ETFOeducators</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/OFLabour?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@OFLabour</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CanTeachersFed?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CanTeachersFed</a> <a href=”https://t.co/T9jvOseSrz”>pic.twitter.com/T9jvOseSrz</a>
Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said there’s still “a huge lack of clarity” about what high school teachers will and won’t be allowed to do when classes resume, even though they’ll be free to use the latest curriculum.
Teachers would normally be able to teach what’s in the curriculum, as well as enhancing it or answering additional questions without worrying about an “implied threat” from the government that doing so could get them in trouble, he said.
“It’s a very peculiar way to go forward, to say the least,” Bischof said of Ford’s statements.
The OSSTF wasn’t given any notice that the government was prepared to unveil an interim curriculum, he said.
Neither Ford nor Education Minister Lisa Thompson was available to answer questions Wednesday about the revised curriculum, their offices said.
A government backgrounder says the consultations will aim to create an “age-appropriate” health and physical education curriculum that includes “mental health, sex-ed and legalization of cannabis.”
The government also said it plans to unveil an interim math curriculum in the coming weeks.
Consultation process will look at range of issues
The PCs say the consultations will include an online survey, telephone town halls across the province, and a submission platform where the government will accept detailed proposals.
The government had initially promised to give the public a chance to weigh in on a new sex-ed curriculum. It now says the consultations will also seek parental feedback on number of issues, including math scores, cellphone use, financial literacy and how best to prepare students with needed job skills.
With files from The Canadian Press, Farrah Merali and Meagan Fitzpatrick