Boards must create sex ed exemption policies
By Chad Ingram
The Ford government has instructed school boards that they must create exemption policies for students whose parents wish to remove them from the sex ed portion of the health and physical education curriculum. However, while Ford said during the election campaign he would repeal the 2015 sex ed curriculum instituted by the Wynne government, the new curriculum is largely similar to the old one.
A policy memorandum released by the Ministry of Education on Aug. 21 outlines the expectations for school boards. It emphasizes that students in Grade 1 through 8, at the request of their parents, may only be exempted from the human development and sexual health portion of the curriculum, titled The Ontario Curriculum: Health and Physical Education, Grade 1 – 8, 2019. “Students will not be exempted from instruction related to any other expectations in this curriculum or related to expectations in other curriculum subjects,” the memo reads. It also clarifies that students will be exempt from all, and not specifically selected, lessons under that part of that of the curriculum: “Exemptions will be granted on for instruction related to all the human development and health expectations in a student’s grade, and not for instruction related to selected expectations or groups of expectations.”
It also specifies there will be no academic penalty for exemption, and school boards may wish to hold community meetings to help parents decide whether they wish to have children exempt from that portion of the curriculum.
School boards in their plans must provide information on what their notification and communications protocol will be; what their process will include; and how exempted students will be supervised.
As for notification and communications, boards must provide parents with a list of all the human development and sexual health education expectations by grade, inform them they have the choice to remove their children from that portion of the curriculum, and make that exemption available on a year-by-year basis.
Under process, a board’s plan must make it clear how the board intends to deal with such situations as exemption forms being submitted past the specified date.
As for supervision of exempted students, parents will need to choose one of three options: having their children remain in the classroom and do other assigned during that portion of that part of the curriculum; have their children leave the classroom but remain in the school under supervision elsewhere; or having their children released from school into their care or the care of a designate.
The memo says school boards must implement their plans for this school year and make them available on their websites no later than Nov. 30.
The communication manager for the Trillium Lakelands District School Board told the Times the board will be reviewing the curriculum and developing a plan in accordance with the ministry’s instruction.
“Over the next few days we will be reviewing the updated health and physical education curriculum which arrived from the Ministry of Education Wednesday morning,” reads an email from Catharine Shedden. “As required, we will be developing a policy and communication strategy to inform parents about options to exempt their child as well as advance notice for the teaching of certain topics. Curriculum documents are a guideline which lay a foundation for a teaching starting point. Teachers use their professional judgement to enrich the curriculum and ensure key topics and student questions are responded to appropriately. Students of all backgrounds, sexual orientation, or race will continue to be supported by TLDSB school communities.”
During the 2018 provincial election campaign, Ford promised he would repeal and replace the 2015 curriculum instituted under former premier Kathleen Wynne, with aspects of that curriculum, particularly portions dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity, unpopular with some parental groups.
“We’re going to repeal the sex ed curriculum,” he told Toronto media at the time. “The days of Liberal ideology indoctrinating our kids, they’re done.”
However, the updated curriculum still contains sections on sexual orientation and gender identity. Sexual orientation will actually be taught earlier than in the 2015 curriculum – starting in Grade 5 rather than Grade 6. Topics of gender identity will be taught later, in Grade 8 rather than Grade 6.
The curriculum has raised the ire of some right-wing groups. The Campaign Life Coalition, a lobbyist group promoting promoting socially conservative values, called the updated curriculum and the opt-out option “a betrayal.”