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Elementary teachers’ union blasts sex ed changes

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

The province’s elementary teacher union denounced recent decisions made by Premier Doug Ford and his Conservative government on sex ed and health curriculum.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is advising teachers to exercise their “professional judgement” when  they return to the classroom this fall.

“The government’s decision to revert to the 1998 Health and Physical Education Curriculum while initiating further consultation is irresponsible, discriminatory and jeopardizes the safety of the students that we teach,” said ETFO President Sam Hammond at the ETFO’s annual meeting. “Teachers will not be muzzled by a government whose political agenda takes precedence over the protection and education of their students.”

In July, Minister of Education Lisa Thompson announced the elimination of the curriculum taught since 2015.

Teaching lessons will revert back to the model last taught in 2014, but developed 20 years ago. The 1998 model does not address modern topics such as consent, cyber safety, and gender.

A few days later, Thompson stated the curriculum would keep some of its modern elements.

The PCs have promised comprehensive consultation in preparation of an updated model.

Premier Ford says that these consultations would be “the largest in the history of Ontario.”

There has been no formal word on when the consultations will begin, and who will be involved.

Opposition parties along with teachers unions blasted the decision. They’ve also questioned what exactly would be taught come September.

In his statement following the annual meeting, Hammond considers the actions of the province “in direct conflict with teachers’ fundamental responsibilities and obligations towards their students including the duty to ensure their safety and their fundamental human rights.”

ETFO Durham Local president David Mastin says teachers are in the dark.

“We haven’t heard anything concrete in nature. Nothing has been directed, it’s just sort of been conjecture,” he says.

Mastin says he is “very confident” that the majority of parents are not in favour of the changes.

“Parents are well aware of the social changes that have happened. They understand 1998 was a very different time,” he says.

The ETFO statement comes a few weeks after the Durham District School Board also criticized the rollback of the curriculum.

“There are many challenges in today’s world that simply did not exist in earlier times. Today’s youth need specific knowledge and skills to respond to these realities, benefits, and pressures that stem from our rapidly changing, technology-driven world,” reads a joint statement from board trustee chair Michael Barrett and director of education Lisa Millar. “Extensive support is required to manage many modern risks and issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, and the proliferation of online pornography.”

Millar and Barrett went on to ask Thompson to clarify curriculum expectations, “in the hopes that appropriate and responsive learning materials supporting students’ health and wellness will be available.”

The Express reached out to the Ministry of Education for comment on the curriculum for the upcoming school year.

Ben Menka, a member of Thompson’s office, says when the ministry carries out revisions to any piece of curriculum, updates are communicated to the school boards and materials provided to teach it.

“The ministry will be sharing details in the near future,” Menka wrote in an e-mail.

The Wynne government instituted the scrapped curriculum in 2015.

It received mixed reaction, as supporters called it a much-needed update, while critics maintained it taught material that was too graphic and too mature for younger students.

The Conservatives have claimed the Liberals didn’t consult with parents enough before 2015.

Mastin said he found this “highly ironic” because the Liberal consultations remain “some of the largest in the history of the province.”

“So much of what is in the 2015 document is phenomenal…it’s addressing the reality of [students] lives [in 2018],” he says. “There are an awful lot of people that need to take the time and read the documents.”

In his decision, the Ford government’s decision was “100 per cent” a political move.

“It’s a crying shame that the safety of our students could be politicized. It’s appalling and it’s disgusting,” he says.