By Shayla Bradley
Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford says the Progressive Conservative provincial government’s roll-back of sex education is not going back very far.
“I don’t think 2014 is that old of a curriculum, for starters,” he said in a conference call earlier this month, calling it “a fairly modern curriculum by any academic standards.”
The Ontario Ministry of Education is reverting to the sex education curriculum last updated in 1998, prior to an update implemented after a 2014 survey of 4,000 parents, 2,400 educators, 700 students, and stakeholders such as law enforcement agencies, academics, the Children’s Aid Societies, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association, the Ontario Healthy Schools Coalition and the Institute for Catholic Education.
“The number of people that were consulted on that represent a statistically insignificant number,” Rickford declared. “This subject matter is important to our government. It was something many of us heard on the doorstep. These are concerns that have been echoed by parents, and parents’ groups across the country, that some of this content concerned them. We fully intend to make a much broader consultation on the content of this curriculum.”
Rickford said education will be going back to “the 2014 curriculum until we’re satisfied the voices of parents and parent groups have been sufficiently heard.”
The age appropriateness of various elements of sex education have concerned parents, said Rickford. “This is an opportunity for us to focus on what parents want, and every kind of modern parent will be given an opportunity to chime in on that with the consultation the minister wants to roll out in the near future.”
According to Deputy Premier and health minister Christine Elliot, consultation sessions will come in September. While teachers are required to follow the curriculum, Elliott said, teachers can have private discussions with students to answer questions.
“We’re going to take the time to do the consultations we need,” said Rickford. “I don’t think this is going to be a long drawn out affair.”
“We’re going to move forward on a consultation process that brings in a broader set of parents’ interests on that curriculum and put in place as quickly as possible.”
The rollback is being met with criticism both locally and provincially.
Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Chief of Treaty #3, said he was deeply disturbed to learn the government is “reverting to a curriculum that is over 20 years old.”
“The 1998 sex-ed curriculum was outdated for the last decade it was in use,” he said. “It is silent on critical topics for our young people, such as consent and online and mobile safety. Moreover, the 1998 curriculum is also deficient in its coverage of LGBTQ and two-spirit identities and families – having been written before same-sex marriage was legal or any of the rights advances which followed were in place. These issues are modern realities, and our young people deserve the facts – not only to understand their own identities but to successfully navigate our society.”
Many young and vulnerable Indigenous people do not have access to guidance at home, said Kavanaugh.
“One of our responsibilities in responding to crises like missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and youth mental health, self-harm, and suicide must be to provide Indigenous young people with information about healthy and safe relationships, sexual orientation and gender identity, and resources related to consent and gender-based violence,” he said. “By putting in place antiquated sex ed curriculum, the Ontario government is abdicating that responsibility and putting young people at risk.
“This goes hand in hand with the recent decision to abandon reconciliation initiatives related to school curriculum. I call on our MPP – who is the Minister of Indigenous Affairs – to bring these matters to the attention of the Ministry of Education as they craft their strategy to release an updated and inclusive sex ed curriculum.”
On the matter of pausing writing sessions for the truth and reconciliation curriculum, Rickford said the structure of the sessions “was probably not as sensitive to the costs.”
“We hit the pause button on this for the simple reason that we wanted to ensure that how these forums were taking place, where they were taking place were done with reasonable cost considerations,” he said. “None of this curriculum is off the table.”
The government will be revisiting the issue in short order, Rickford said.
“The principles of truth and reconciliation will be honoured and respected by this government and delivered in a real and concrete way,” he said. “I will be working to ensure they reach their intended targets.”