The public will be able to weigh in on much more than just sex education when consultations begin in September on what is taught in Ontario’s schools, Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.
Consultations on the sex-ed curriculum, which Ford promised in the campaign that brought him to power, will be broadened to solicit input on math and science lessons, job skills, financial literacy, the legalization of cannabis, ways to improve standardized testing and cellphone use in the classroom.
Premier Doug Ford says his government expects “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 a statement that the education ministry is releasing a revised “interim” sex-ed curriculum to be used by teachers in the coming school year, based on the old curriculum that was taught from 1998 to 2015, along with math curriculum changes coming soon.
He issued a warning to anyone considering whether to teach the recently repealed sex-ed curriculum, brought in by former premier Kathleen Wynne in 2015.
“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 an apparent rebuke to the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario’s call for teachers to give their students the most up-to-date information.
“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.”
No specific penalties were mentioned and Education Minister Lisa Thompson has repeatedly refused to say what measures the province could take. For its part, the elementary teachers union has offered legal protection to teachers facing any discipline or legal action.
Ford said the government is also drafting a “Ministry of Education Parents’ Bill of Rights” to “ensure that the rights of parents are respected throughout and following the reform process.”
Thompson will be using her authority as minister under the Ontario College of Teachers Act to establish a public interest committee to ensure “curriculum-based misconduct issues are fairly dealt with at the college,” the government statement said.
“Our government will be prepared to take regulatory and legislative action to ensure that the rights of parents are protected,” Thompson said.
The government has launched a dedicated website, called Fortheparents.ca, where parents can report any concerns about what their children are being taught — something critics have likened to a snitch line. And if they feel like a teacher is “jeopardizing their child's education by deliberately ignoring Ontario's curriculum,” parents are being told to call the Ontario College of Teachers’ investigations and hearings department or file a complaint online.
Ford promised the consultation would amount to a holistic rethinking of education in Ontario.
“We promised to deliver an education system that puts the rights of parents first while getting back to the basics when it comes to teaching fundamental subjects like math,” the premier said.
There was no schedule provided for the consultations, which Ford has promised would “criss-cross this province to 124 ridings.”
Ford and his ministers have repeatedly defended the government’s decision to scrap the 239-page, 2015 health and physical education curriculum — which includes sex education — in favour of the 42-page version from 1998, which was in place before social media and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
The Progressive Conservatives said parents were not properly consulted before the updated 2015 curriculum was implemented. It includes the teaching of the proper names for body parents and genitals in Grade 1, a change child-abuse investigators have long recommended.
In Grade 3, the new curriculum, for which development started in 2007, introduces the concept of same-sex relationships with lessons on puberty and the need to be careful online coming in Grade 4. The topics of consent, healthy relationships and masturbation are raised in Grade 6, and Grade 7 lessons include warnings about “sexting,” sexually transmitted diseases and on oral and anal sex.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner described the rollout of the government’s consultations as “haphazard.”
“I cannot believe that the premier and the minister of education want teachers to pretend the online world of social media and sexting doesn’t exist,” Schreiner said. “I cannot believe they want teachers to be silent on gender diversity, putting the safety and mental health of our LGBTQ+ youth at risk.”
The New Democrats have accused Ford’s government of being in the pocket of social conservative activists like former Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen and Rev. Charles McVety, who helped Ford win the party’s leadership race.
“In Doug Ford’s Ontario, it’s clear that the health and safety of students isn’t what matters,” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath charged.
“Today’s announcement makes it clear that vital issues like consent, LGBTQ families, and gender identity are being almost completely eliminated from Ontario’s elementary sex-ed curriculum to appease a vocal minority of radical social conservatives who helped secure the Conservative leadership for Doug Ford.”