Sex Ed: Too far or not far enough
Ontario’s was unveiled Monday to mixed reviews from parents, with some lauding changes to the almost two-decade-old material as long overdue, and others vowing a showdown over what they consider age-inappropriate content.
Education Minister Liz Sandals expected some parental opposition but reiterated that the materials will be implemented this fall as planned.
“I anticipate there will be members of various religions who may object to one thing or another . . . but the curriculum is the curriculum that will be taught in Ontario schools,” said Sandals.
On Monday, the Liberals unveiled the first update to the province’s health curriculum since 1998. So antiquated was the existing syllabus that it did not even reflect the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada more than a decade ago. The update also covers cyber safety, including sexting, as well as consent, and puts the curriculum in line with what’s being taught in other provinces.
Toronto mom Stephanie Baptist, a counsellor with Toronto Public Health, said it’s important to talk to kids about things like sexting in Grade 4 because even though they likely don’t have a cellphone, they do have access to devices “early, and often” — and often without supervision.
Parents, she added, will always play a role no matter what schools teach.
“Curriculum comes from the province — but the values always come from the family,” she said.
However, as many as 2,000 parents plan to protest outside Queen’s Park on Tuesday, upset at what they feel is too much information at too young an age, as well as a lack of meaningful parental consultation.
“My concern is about the process,” said Ziyad Mohamed, a Mississauga father of two young children who says religion has nothing to do with his concerns.
He also feels “the government has tried to demonize those who object” rather than listen to them.
In a telephone interview, Sandals said the curriculum underwent significant consultation with many groups over the years, and Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters Monday the government is “very committed to this.”
Sandals said she has not labelled parents who object as zealots — that characterization has come from the media.
“We understand that parents are concerned and they want to know what their kids are learning,” she said, adding materials were created by experts and based on evidence.
The curriculum that will be in use in schools by this September is largely the same as what was proposed five years ago, then by then-premier Dalton McGuinty due to an outcry by a vocal minority of social conservatives.
Farina Siddiqui, co-ordinator of the Greater Toronto group Coalition of Concerned Parents, will take part in Tuesday’s protest and said it includes parents “of faith, of no faith — from every walk of life.”
“The ministry is calling us a fringe group. We are parents; we are the most important stakeholders in our children’s lives.”
Wynne, who has long championed a revised curriculum, told reporters everything in the update is “age appropriate” and “it’s done in a way kids can understand,” adding it’s important for kids as young as Grade 1 to learn about “different lifestyles and different family configurations.”
Jacki Yovanoff, a Waterloo mom of four, welcomed talk about consent and bullying, saying it builds on what she’s taught her own children about respecting their bodies and others’ bodies.
“I understand the concern — seeing (the terms) anal sex, oral sex in writing, especially in relation to elementary-age students takes you aback,” she said, adding that when you look at what is being taught at what age, the curriculum revamp makes sense given children’s experiences today.
As first disclosed by the Martin Regg Cohn on Sunday, the modernized curriculum is designed to keep kids safe from abuse by educating them.
Proper names for body parts and genitals will be taught in Grade 1 — something child-abuse investigators have long urged.
The first mention of the concept of same-sex relationships will be introduced to Grade 3 students.
Grade 4 students will learn about online safety, text messaging and “sexual pictures,” as well as puberty.
Grade 6 students will be taught what masturbation is and will learn about healthy relationships and consent.
Grade 7 students will be warned about the risks of “sexting” as well as informed about sexually transmitted diseases and oral and anal sex.
Sandals noted that if parents object to “this curriculum — or, quite frankly, science curriculum or English curriculum or any other piece of curriculum — the Education Act gives a parent of any religion or belief system the right to withdraw their child from that particular lesson.”