“A Promise made, A promise kept,” has been the recurring motif of the newly minted government at Queen’s Park, and it’s a message that has been delivered on to some extent.
Fulfilling a key campaign pledge to revert sexual education in the province to a pre-Liberal era, the Ford government released its revised health and physical education curriculum for the 2018-19 school year.
The move has brought the government into direct conflict with the province’s largest union of grade school teacher’s, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
“[The] ETFO is seeking an injunction against the government to stop this unprecedented and unnecessary attack on kids and professional educators in Ontario,” said Sam Hammond, union president, at a press conference Tuesday. “Students need and deserve modern day information and answers to their questions. This is about safety, inclusion and preparing students for the world of 2018, not the world of 1998.”
The new curriculum – a mash-up of the 2015 school curriculum created under the Liberal government, and the previous curriculum written in 1998 – will be mandatory instruction for Grades 1 through 8. Grades 9 through 12, however, will continue to be taught from the same 2015 curriculum.
The decision earned a near-universal rebuke from educators and healthcare professionals in the province, who said it would be dangerous to teach children such outdated information vital to their health and safety. The ETFO has said that the reversed curriculum fundamentally opposed the province’s Education Act, the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Nonetheless, the province has doubled down on their decision, saying teachers that did not follow the revised curriculums would face consequences.
“We expect our teachers, principals and school board officials to fulfill their obligations to parents and children when it comes to what our students learn in the classroom,” said Ford in a media statement.
“We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games. And, make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.”
However, Scott McMillan, chair of the Waterloo Region District School Board, questioned Ford’s sincerity.
“I think it’s an empty threat. I think that it’s going to be impossible to do what he’s claiming, and I also think that he is guilty of his own crime there,” said McMillan. “He’s doing nothing but making pawns out of children and politicizing our classrooms.”
Ultimately, McMillan said that teachers had an obligation to teach their students appropriate information, and that little would change in practice in the classrooms, despite the government’s warnings.
The Premier has urged parents to report teachers suspected of teaching outside the curriculum to the authorities, creating a web portal that would allow for anonymous complaints to be made directly to the Ontario College of Teachers.
The ETFO derided the so-called “snitch-line,” and has said they will include the issue as part of their legal challenge against the province.
The government has also pledged the creation a new “Parent’s Bill of Rights” under the Ministry of Education, with consultations from parents, though no other details have yet been provided.
“I don’t know what’s going to come of that,” said McMillan of the proposed Parent’s Bill of Rights. “And I think, we certainly need to respect parent’s rights, but we also need to respect student’s rights. You’ve heard Doug Ford talk a lot about parent’s rights, and you haven’t heard him say anything about student’s rights.
“We have to remember that these kids are people too, and they have rights just like their parents do.”
The new curriculum upends the last 20 years of social, political and technological change, replacing modern information with dated excerpts from the 1998 school curriculum.
Gone, for instance, are the overt references to homosexuality and gay parentage – gay marriage having only been legalized in the country in 2005. Lessons on expressing and understanding consent, first introduced in Grades 6, have likewise been revoked. The topic of gender identity – touched on, in the 2015 for younger grades, but not discussed significantly until high school – has been relegated to the glossary.
The reversal of the province’s curriculum by 20 years is being treated as a temporary measure by the province, which plans to launch parent consultations on an “unprecedented” scale to create a replacement. Ford has lambasted his predecessor for not adequately seeking parents’ input on the curriculum.
“It’s unfortunate because I think the 2015 curriculum could have used improving, and it could have benefited from greater parent consultation, greater public consultation, greater input,” agreed McMillan.
“But this isn’t the right way to do it. There’s a valid point there, but then to go back to 1998 just isn’t productive in any way whatsoever. They should have kept the 2015 curriculum in place and then begun their consultation and made improvements from there.”