TORONTO – Ontario’s new sex education curriculum retains many elements of a previous Liberal government document that sparked controversy and that the Progressive Conservatives had slammed as ideological.
When in Opposition the Tories largely stayed away from naming any specific concepts in the curriculum that they had an issue with, but a protest movement led by social conservatives singled out gender identity, masturbation and references to anal intercourse as problematic.
In the new elementary curriculum, released Wednesday, sexual orientation will be a mandatory topic taught in Grade 5, earlier than in the Liberals’ 2015 curriculum, which had it in Grade 6. Gender identity will be a mandatory topic in Grade 8 – it was previously mandatory in Grade 6.
Both topics were previously mentioned in the curriculum document for Grade 3, though they were not mandatory lessons.
Students had to describe how visible and invisible differences make each person unique, and examples given for invisible differences were “learning abilities, skills and talents, personal or cultural values and beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, family background, personal preferences, allergies and sensitivities.”
Those references to gender identity and sexual orientation have now been removed, and mental illness has been added.
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Masturbation remains an optional teacher prompt in Grade 6, and anal sex continues to be first mentioned in Grade 7, in terms of delaying sexual activity until people are older.
Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who is gay, has said she had no doubt that homophobia motivated some of the protesters.
Premier Doug Ford and other Tories had said the Liberal curriculum was ideological and had promised during last year’s election to repeal it and engage in a wider consultation with parents.
One of the most vocal opponents to the curriculum, Tanya Granic Allen, had vaulted the issue back into the spotlight when she ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership months prior to the election.
Granic Allen tweeted Wednesday that Ford’s new curriculum is a betrayal.
“The radical Wynne sex-ed is still there – ALL OF IT. And gender identity is mentioned 40 times,” she wrote. “Ford LIED to the parents.”
The new curriculum also has a new focus on mental health, adds teaching on concussions and the risks of vaping, and expands on lessons on consent and cyberbullying.
There will also be an option for parents to have their children opt out of certain teaching blocks, which standardizes a process that was already in place across most of the province.
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Five changes to Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum
SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND GENDER IDENTITY
Sexual orientation will be a mandatory topic taught in Grade 5, earlier than in the Liberals’ 2015 curriculum, which had it in Grade 6. Students will have to “identify intersecting factors that affect the development of a person’s self-concept, including their sexual orientation.” Gender identity will be a mandatory topic in Grade 8 – it was previously mandatory in Grade 6. Students will have to “demonstrate an understanding of gender identity (e.g., male, female, Two-Spirit, transgender), gender expression, and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual), and identify factors that can help individuals of all identities and orientations develop a positive self-concept.”
The previous curriculum had consent as a mandatory topic in Grade 7, requiring students to explain the concept and how consent is communicated. It was also included as an optional teacher prompt in Grade 6, with discussions on how only a clear “yes” is a signal of consent. Students in Grade 1 must now demonstrate an understanding of the importance of consent, in the context of caring behaviours. Students in Grade 2 must explain the importance of consent and demonstrate the ability to stand up for themselves and others, such as reporting improper touching. Lessons on consent are also included in several other grades, and the word shows up nearly three times more often in this curriculum than the old one.
CYBERBULLYING AND ONLINE SAFETY
Cyberbullying was previously a mandatory topic in Grade 7, but that now moves to Grade 4. Students will be expected to “describe various types of bullying, abuse, and other non-consensual behaviour,” including cyberbullying, and identify the impacts they can have and appropriate ways of responding. As early as Grade 1, students will be asked to demonstrate an understanding of how to stay safe at home, in the community, when online and outdoors. Various other lessons on online risks are included, such as talking about online personal safety in Grade 2 and cyberbullying, including homophobic remarks, in Grade 5.
CANNABIS AND VAPING
Recreational cannabis has been legalized for adults since the previous curriculum was published, and the new version contains many more references to it. The previous curriculum had lessons on the effects of cannabis “and other illicit drugs” in Grade 6. Now in Grade 5, students will have to identify factors that affect a person’s decision to drink alcohol or use cannabis. The effects of cannabis will still be discussed in Grade 6, as well as other drugs, including a mention of opioids, which were not mentioned in the previous curriculum. The effects of vaping are mentioned now, starting in Grade 4. It was not previously mentioned in the curriculum.
Since the introduction of the 2015 curriculum, the Ontario legislature has passed a concussion safety law, named after Rowan Stringer, a teen who died from second impact syndrome after multiple concussions as a rugby player. The curriculum now includes 80 mentions of the word concussion, and lessons on concussion safety start in Grade 1. Those students must “demonstrate behaviours and apply procedures that maximize safety and lessen the risk of injury, including the risk of concussion, for themselves and others during physical activity.” In the previous curriculum, concussions were mentioned as an example in a Grade 8 requirement that students “identify situations that could lead to injury or death.”
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