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Schools ramp up for new sex. ed curriculum

After nearly two decades, Ontario is on the brink of an updated sexual education curriculum.

Predictably, the issue has spurred much controversy, debate and political posturing.

But here in the Waterloo Region, it’s business as usual for both the public and Catholic school boards.

“At this point in time we are certainly in the process of reviewing the curriculum and looking at what that might be in terms of the roll out while awaiting the ministry training which will take place at the end of April,” Waterloo Region District School Board superintendent Scott Lomax said, while noting that the human development and sexual health components only make up roughly 10 per cent of the material. “This is the health and physical education curriculum and it is about healthy and active living and supporting our students in understanding what that means. And, the sensitive components of it, if you look at the curriculum, are really handled in a factual, biological way because we want to make sure that our students have the information that is important and relevant and accurate, rather than other means of getting that information.”

The Catholic board on the other hand, wouldn’t comment on the curriculum itself.

“As part of the rollout of the curriculum, Catholic boards will be receiving a set of resources via the Institute for Catholic Education,” Waterloo Catholic District School Board chief managing officer John Shewchuk said. “Our understanding is those resources will guide teachers in implementing the curriculum. I don’t know the timing of the release of those resources and it would be premature to make any comments about how the curriculum will be implemented locally until we receive those resources and have had a chance to determine how to use them most appropriately in classroom settings.”

The new curriculum, which will see the addition of lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity for Grade 3 students and information about online risks discussed with Grade 4s, among other changes, will officially begin next fall.

Lyndsey Butcher, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Waterloo, said these changes were long overdue.

“The last time the curriculum was updated was back in 1998 and that was pre-Internet and smart phones and all of those things, so we are really pleased with the new curriculum,” Butcher said. “We feel it is quite age appropriate and does a good job of gradually introducing students to new information so that they can make better choices as they age.”

First put on the table by the McGuinty government in 2010, the curriculum has actually been in the works since 2007, Butcher said.

But that wasn’t enough time for the government to get adequate input from parents, Kitchener Conestoga MPP Michael Harris argued. He also called the timing –shortly after the Sudbury election scandal – suspicious.

“This is simply a distraction to get people to chase this issue away from the bribery scandal,” Harris said. “On the issue itself, and I know this is very, very important to parents in my community, I have not even had a chance to look online. … On the outset, I can say that I have had an enormous amount of correspondence from parents, ultimately concerned with the lack of consultation that the Liberal government has had with parents in general. They can say that they consulted with one member at each school but it is actually interesting because they talk a lot about the concept of consent, and a lot of parents haven’t given their consent on this, nor will parliamentarians be able to actually give our consent on this important issue.”

In the meantime, both the WRDSB and the WCDSB are preparing for the new material, and are asking parents to do the same.

The new health and physical education curriculum can be viewed in its entirety on the Ministry of Education website: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/health.html.

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