By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
With students returning to class in a matter of weeks, the province has unveiled its updated sex-ed and health curriculum.
Shortly after the Ford government took power in June 2018, it scrapped the controversial curriculum put in place by the Liberals in 2015.
The move was met with both criticism and support.
Those in favour said the 2015 curriculum taught students about topics such as gender identity and sexual orientation much too soon.
The opposing side claimed rolling back the sex-ed curriculum would put students at a disadvantage.
In the interim, the Conservatives returned to the curriculum developed in 1998, with promises of a new plan and inclusive public consultation.
This move only applied to elementary school lessons, as high school students continued to learn under the 2015 curriculum.
However, details of the Liberal plan, such as online safety and consent, which some Conservatives criticized, remain in the new curriculum.
The main difference is these topics will now be taught to students at an older age.
The updated curriculum also addresses concussions and the use of vaping and cannabis products.
The province says it is also increasing content on mental health.
“This modernization will keep kids safe in and outside the classroom,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a released statement. “Ontario is a leader in critical areas including mental health, cyber safety, and consent, underscoring our commitment to building an education system that prioritizes inclusion, safety, and respect.”
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French says it is a “victory for the students, educators and families” that the curriculum hasn’t been altered drastically.
“I don’t have faith that this government listens when it says it’s going to, but I would say they couldn’t help but to hear the message… that we have to be teaching lessons in line with human rights and what is safe and up-to-date,” French says.
However, she accused the Ford government of using students as a pawn in a political game.
“I think it has done harm to the youth along the way,” she adds.
Parents who do not want their children to learn sex-ed will be able to do so, as school boards must develop exemption policies.
Charles Senior, a spokesperson for the Durham District School Board, says they’ve had exemption policies in the past, but it is unclear how this new mandate may or may not affect that. A complete listing of what students will learn grade-by-grade can be found at https://www.ontario.ca/document/health-and-physical-education-grades-1-8/human-development-and-sexual-health-education-grade
In a press release, Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond said while the union is pleased the curriculum remains largely unchanged, there are areas of concern.
“We are concerned about the opt-out clause for parents to pull their children from these classes to the detriment of their safety and well-being. You do not get to opt out of human rights,” Hammond said.
The union head also had questions regarding the resources available to educators to implement new elements of the curriculum so close to the new school year.
“There is still great uncertainty as to how the curriculum will be implemented given that the government has introduced it two weeks before it is expected to be taught,” Hammond says.