Should Ontario's sex-ed curriculum be changed?

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What’s happening:

Last week, Ontario’s Conservative government revealed its sex education curriculum, which will be in effect at the start of the school year. It was updated after consultations with parents, educators and experts—and ended up being quite similar to the 2015 version under the Liberal Party.

The 320-page document, released Wednesday, covers what students from Grades 1 to 8 will be learning and when. New topics include information about cannabis use, vaping and concussions. Other topics like mental health, cyber safety and consent were also highlighted. Some of the notable changes include pushing discussions of gender identity from Grade 6 to Grade 8, while sexual orientation will be discussed a year earlier in Grade 5.

Exemption policies and procedures are also expected to be put in place by provincial school boards. This means, parents will be able to decide if they want their children to opt out of certain subjects.

The curriculum for students in Grades 9 to 12 has not been changed since 2015.

Why there’s debate:

When Premier Doug Ford and the Conservatives came into power, they vowed to scrap the Liberal curriculum and revert back to the 1998 version. The confusion and controversy after revealing their latest plan on Wednesday stems from the fact that Ford didn’t follow through on that promise. Those who supported him are now frustrated, while those who did not are upset by the amount of time and money it took to reach this outcome.

At a news conference on Wednesday, MPP Marit Stiles called out Ford for “wasting a year playing politics” with children’s safety and wellbeing. A former supporter of his, president of Parents As First Educators group Tanya Granic Allen, was also dismayed for other reasons. She wrote about it on Twitter, saying that the exemption policy was a “bait and switch.” In another post, she said, “So much for ‘repeal.’ Doug Ford is a liar.”

Another point of contention was when students should learn about gender identity. Some argued it should be discussed before Grade 8, while some supported the change. Minister of Education Stephen Lecce explained that it was all about respecting the parents and experts who were consulted, as well as the students.

“We want young people in this province to know, irrespective of their faith, of their heritage, of their orientation, their economic status or their place of birth,” Lecce told CityNews. “That they are valued and they are respected. They should feel safe in the classroom.”

What’s next:

The updated sex education curriculum is set to be taught in September and school boards will have to put their policies for exemption in place by November 30. Resources for parents will be made available online so they can choose to discuss topics with their children at home. The resources will be released during the academic year, according to the Ministry of Education.

Perspectives:

The updated plan was a relief.

“I must say, I’m quite relieved. It’s way better than I thought it was going to be. To me, it doesn’t look like a tremendous departure from the 2015 curriculum.” — Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning at York University, Sarah Flicker to Global News

Teachers don’t have enough time to look it over.

“Educators have also been urging the Ford government since last spring to release the update so teachers would have time to review it and take part in professional development sessions.” — Kristin Rushowy, Toronto Star

Gender identity should be discussed at an earlier age.

“I think that transphobia is so rampant and present in 2019, especially with young people having such access to the Internet … I think it should be brought up sooner. They’re bringing up concussions, which most people will never have to deal with in their life, a lot earlier than they’re bringing up gender identity, which many kids in the classroom could be questioning amongst themselves.” — Student Indygo Arscott to CTV News

Too much money was spent.

“We saw the government spend nearly a million dollars on an online survey and we have today a new curriculum that is largely unchanged. It really has been quite a public relations exercise for this government.” — NDP MPP Marit Stiles to NewsTalk1010

The exemption policy could be detrimental.

“We know that sex education can have a positive impact… so it is worrisome that some children will not receive that education because their parents have opted out of those classes.” — Executive Director at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, Alex McKay to Global News

Parents won’t actually have a choice.

“Ford is perpetrating a sleight of hand to trick parents into thinking they can opt their kids out of the most contentious lessons, but they really can’t.” — Political Operations Director at Campaign Life Coalition Jack Fonseca to the Ottawa Citizen