Toronto parents want to pull kids from class when ‘sensitive’ subjects arise

Concerned parents in Toronto are asking schools to notify them when their child's class will be discussing "sensitive subjects" — including homosexuality, evolution, birth control, and "environmental worship" — so they can remove their child from classes that conflict with their religious believes, the Toronto Star reports.

Ontario parents are currently permitted to request their children be removed from certain portions of sex-education classes.

Conservative Christian and Muslim parents have united to give schools the same "Traditional Values Letter" used by Greek Orthodox father Steve Tourloukis. Tourloukis is currently suing the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board for refusing to warm him when his children's teachers were going to be talking about family issues or human sexuality.

The father of two — he has a son in Grade 4 and a daughter in Grade 1 — wants the board to "acknowledge my inherent parental rights to direct the spiritual and moral education of my children," he told CBC News.

"I'm not an extremist, but I must ensure that my children abstain from certain activities that may include lessons which promote views contrary to our faith," Tourloukis told the Toronto Star. "We know other denominations like Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims are excused for certain activities. Does our being Christian disqualify us from equitable treatment?"

The board has suggested that Tourloukis homeschool his children.

A group called the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund is supporting Tourloukis' fight to withdraw his children from certain subjects. Lou Iacobello, the group's chair, calls the homeschooling suggestion "condescending" and "the epitome of intolerance."

According to Parental Rights in Education's website: "The charter right to religious freedom is being aggressively subverted by Ministry of Education and school board policies across Canada that are indoctrinating children in the classroom with philosophies that undermine the religious beliefs of their parents."

The "sensitive subjects" stock letter, written by PEACE (Public Education Advocates for Christian Equity) Hamilton, is circulating just days after Ontario's new school anti-bullying law came into effect. Bill 13 — read it here — promotes acceptance of all types of diversity.

Some parents are concerned that their religious beliefs won't be respected if Ontario schools won't acknowledge values "beyond the humanistic approach."

PEACE claims that Minister of Education Laurel Broten and NDP education critic Peter Tabuns have acknowledged that the intent of the new legislation is to "change the traditional norms and values of society, and change them for good."

Educators supporting an inclusive school system, however, are concerned by the parents' attack against it.

"These competing rights can be complex issues, but one reason educators from around the world study our system is because our schools are safe places for everyone," Minister of Education Laurel Broten said.

"A little person can draw a picture of her two moms or two dads, for example, and feel safe and accepted. That's what happens in classes across Ontario and that's what should happen."

According to the Toronto District School Board, "a classroom that is relevant to students' lives cannot help but include sensitive issues about work, family, and society. Controversy is a natural part of the process of knowing."

Should parents be able to dictate the specifics of their child's education? Is private school — an option, along with homeschooling, that's supported by PEACE — a better choice for families with beliefs that strongly contradict the public school curriculum?

Maybe the new inclusive approach will encourage parents to start teaching their kids the ability to discern between the school's teachings and their personal beliefs — all the while learning to respect other world views.