Peel parents express disappointment in Ford government’s flip-flop on sex ed curriculum
Let’s talk about sex was the subject of the day, Wednesday, when Education Minister Stephen Lecce revealed what the Doug Ford government’s much anticipated sexual education curriculum will be.
It borrows heavily from the 2015 curriculum. New additions to the overall framework include concussions and vaping and cannabis, among others. Ford swept into office on a promise to scrap the Kathleen Wynne-era sex education changes, in response to much outcry over its inclusion of gender identity, LGBTQ issues and masturbation. Some who voted for him as socially conservative members of religious communities that just do not talk about sex, expressed frustration Wednesday after the announcement. During last year’s provincial election there was much opposition from social conservative groups, including voices from Brampton, that expressed concern over the teaching of sexual concepts to children as early as Grade 1.
The only significant difference between the Liberal curriculum and the one announced Wednesday is that gender identity will now be taught in Grade 8 instead of 6 and all parents will have the option to exempt their kids from sexual education lessons.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce visits a classroom
The decision to essentially revert back to the Liberal approach did not sit well with some Brampton residents.
Ranjit Singh Hira, 64, believes young kids should be focused on things other than sex. Many in the diverse religious communities in Brampton, which Hira identitifies with as a turban-wearing Sikh, was certainly at odds with the 2015 sex-ed curriculum rolled out under Wynne. Sex is often considered a taboo subject among some in more conservative circles of the South Asian-Canadian community. Many children will likely not have “the talk” until they are older and some will never discuss issues such as gender identity and LGBTQ rights with their parents.
“If you’re teaching them at the very beginning about sex, then that is not good. They should be involved in play, or something else. What our thinking says is that is not good.” Hira said that he is not opposed to talking to minors about sex, but everything should be done at the appropriate age. “An old man needs to use a walking stick, if you give a young person a stick to walk with that is not good. There is a time for them to learn,” Hira said, speaking in Punjabi.
Another Mississauga mother, said that she removed her kids from the public system and placed them in a religious private school because of the sex-ed curriculum introduced under Wynne. “I did not want to put [my kids] in a public school because of the sex education, so I put [them] in a catholic private school.” When asked about what she thought about the exemption option to pull students out of lessons, she said she “liked it” but she is “still going to keep [her kids in private school]... the kids are way in advance in Catholic private schools, just looking at my kids they are learning a year in advance.”
One controversial opponent of the 2015 guidelines has already come out against the newly revised curriculum. Tanya Granic Allen, who also ran for leader of the provincial Tories, has said Wednesday’s news represents a broken promise to Ford’s largely social conservative voters. “I think Doug Ford won because he promised the parents and children of Ontario that he would get rid of what he called liberal ideology being forced into the classrooms of Ontario,” she said. “Nothing has been repealed, Doug Ford lied.”
Premier Doug Ford with former education minister Lisa Thompson
She was briefly the candidate last year for Mississauga Centre, but Granic Allen’s blatantly homophobic stance eventually forced Ford to remove her from the PC team. She continues to be vocal in her opposition to sex education and claims to represent many others across Ontario who she says share her views.
When the Wynne Liberals introduced the 2015 curriculum, it was hailed as a progressive and modern retooling of the old 1998 guidelines, which did not take into consideration subjects like cyberbullying and gender identity. However, her government was besieged by religious groups and social conservatives over the subjects the revised curriculum covered. Doug Ford, during the provincial election, accused Wynne of not consulting with parents over the lessons. Wynne said at the time that parental input was received and added that her program was based in science and the realities of a tolerant, modern society.
Schools in the Netherlands have been teaching sex education to much younger students for the past 30 years. In comparison to the U.S. — where more and more states favoured abstinence-only sex education during the same time period — the rate of unwanted pregnancy is five times lower in the Netherlands than the U.S.. Americans under the age of 25 comprise half of all new sexually transmitted infection cases, whereas those under 25 in the Netherlands represent only 10 percent of new STI cases.
Much of the outcry against the Wynne sex education plan was centred in the Region of Peel, where more conservative and religious groups objected, particularly against the inclusion of LGBTQ and gender issues. While parents did have the option of removing their kids from sex-ed classes on religious grounds, former director of education at the Peel District School Board Tony Pontes took a hard stand on the LGBTQ education. “We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” Pontes told the Toronto Star in 2015. “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.”
Amarjit Singh, an orthodox Sikh, has resigned himself to the reality that one has to go with the times. “How can you stop the environment that you live in?,” he told The Pointer, in Punjabi. But he doesn’t like having views imposed on some by others with different cultural perspectives. “This is a multipurpose country, people from many countries are here, they should consider everyone’s opinion before making a decision… It should be a middle path.”
Brampton resident Amarjit Singh
Spokesperson for the Peel District School Board, Ryan Reyes, said on Wednesday that the board does not have a response to the rollout of the new curriculum, at least not yet. “As we just received the curriculum this morning, we are not yet in a position to do any media around it since we require time to review it. We will be able to do media in the future once we have completed our review,” he said in an emailed statement.
The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, through Chair Sharon Hobin, addressed aspects of the current curriculum. “We are pleased that the curriculum addresses current relevant issues such as mental health, including social-emotional learning skills, concussion awareness, the effects and consequences of vaping and cannabis, cybersafety including bullying prevention and digital privacy, Healthy eating and body image, healthy relationships, including consent.”
She added: “Parents have always had the right to remove their child from the program if they believe it is in the child’s best interests, and they accept the responsibility of providing an education in sexuality.”
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