A new sex-ed. curriculum not unlike the old one should be in place when students return to school new week.
The revised policy, released last week by the province, is the latest round in what has been a controversial topic since Doug Ford became premier last summer. Soon after taking office, the Progressive Conservatives repealed the 2015 Liberal education curriculum, which predated same-sex marriage in Canada and does not include many of the topics that are relevant to the era such as cyber-bullying, social media or LGBTQ2 issues.
Accused of trying to roll back the clock on sexual education, the government has taken less of a departure in the new health program which schools must start rolling out this year, according to Waterloo Region District School Board superintendent Angela Mercier.
Starting in September, children will now learn about consent, healthy relationships, same-sex marriage, concussions and the risks of vaping and cannabis. Mercier said she believes these new topics are imperative to what children need to be learning in school.
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“Vaping has risen in prevalence amongst our young people and with having the legalization of cannabis happening in Canada, we believe it is an important addition to the health curriculum.”
Many phys-ed and health teachers have already included these topics while teaching students about healthy choices in life, Mercier said.
The revamped curriculum will scrap its 20-year-old teaching plan to ensure there is a greater focus on mental health and general well-being in health and physical education classes. This will be done through introducing the topic of consent in Grade 3, where students will learn the characteristics of a healthy relationship.
Rather than simply scrapping much of the previous curriculum, some of it deemed controversial by socially conservative groups, the province now plans to introduce it in later grades, where students are older.
For example, kids will not be learning about gender identity until Grade 8, whereas the subject was previously taught in Grade 6. Other concepts such as sexual orientation are now being introduced earlier in Grade 5 in regards to body image and self-acceptance.
A shift will also be made in the system to focus more on social media and how it is used at school and outside of the classroom.
“Any time that we can speak to our students and teach them online safety both in the classroom and as well as at home are important because it’s so much a part of their lives,” said Mercier.
Social media is nothing new to educators who have dealt with the early days of Facebook when it was first introduced, Mercier explains. Teachers have been working hard to make sure both students and parents are educated around these topics.
“Technology was taking off very quickly and parents couldn’t stay caught up.
“Continuing to have those conversations about online safety not only just what to do if cyber bullying is happening – not just reactively but also proactively. What are ways we can remain safe? What are the red flags? What are things that students can do to protect themselves?” Mercier added.
The province has included an option for parents to exempt their children from instruction in regards to the human development and sexual health. For years the board has allowed for a faith and religious consultation for those families who are concerned with an area of the curriculum, which then they are to find an accommodation from the principal, Mercier explained.
For now the school board is still working on an actual procedure of how the exemption will work with the new policy, how to communicate it to parents, and how teachers would supervise exempted students. Teachers are to come up with a plan before November 30.
Being in the early days of the new policy, the board will be meeting next week to start developing an implementation plan of the new health curriculum that can be put to use right away in the upcoming school year.