A guideline released by the Toronto public school board to help alleviate confusion among parents over controversial changes to the sex-ed curriculum makes it clear teachers can still address “critically important topics.”
In a letter sent out Wednesday, the board said it compared the repealed modernized 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum with the reissued 2010 curriculum, which contains sex-ed material from 1998. While the wording may be different, and expectations may differ depending on grade, the current curriculum still contains key issues, explained John Malloy, director of education at the Toronto District School Board.
“Topics such as online safety, bullying, consent, respecting, understanding and honouring diverse families of students that may identify as (LGBTQ) — all of these points are part of, in some way, the reissued 2010 curriculum,” said Malloy in an interview. “Clarity is important when there’s a very significant issue on the table. And by providing that clarity we hope we can support teachers to serve students, we can support parents to understand what we’re teaching, and how we’re teaching, and we will continue to work through any conflicts that may emerge.”
The guide says religious accommodations will be made for parents if they’re concerned about part of the curriculum, but not if it involves human rights issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation. The TDSB is also providing resources to teachers and principals on how to deliver the curriculum, as ordered by the Ministry of Education, while creating an environment that’s safe and inclusive for students.
The idea for a parent guide surfaced because the TDSB received numerous calls and emails in recent weeks from concerned parents over what children would be taught, after the Progressive Conservatives repealed the curriculum for elementary students. Teachers were directed to use the reissued curriculum, while the province holds public consultations, set to begin this month.
Premier Doug Ford’s curriculum rollback generated intense backlash. Both the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed applications with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to halt the rollback, arguing, in part, that the reissued curriculum discriminates against LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) members. Those matters will be heard jointly by the Divisional Court in late November. In addition, a Human Rights Tribunal case has been launched by six families of LGBTQ youth, who say the outdated lessons make no mention of gender, consent or same-sex relationships.
The events of recent weeks prompted the board to release the online guide for parents, which breaks down the differences by grade. It’s believed to be the first board in the province to issue such a guide.
“We’re simply helping people understand what the 2010 curriculum actually says,” explained Malloy, adding teachers are expected to use it.
“Parents may believe that certain topics are not permitted in that curriculum. And we’re trying to communicate that if you actually read through the curriculum … many of the topics of concern are still present.”
There are some issues no longer covered in the current curriculum, he noted. For instance, some discussion about sexual activity is delayed until high school. But, he said, “there may not be as many differences as our parents may have thought.”
In some cases, topics are now covered under “prompts” — for instance, if a student brings up an issue — as opposed to “expectations,” but they remain in the curriculum. Malloy believes part of the confusion is because the 2015 curriculum explicitly outlines very clear expectations, whereas the 2010 is less explicit.
Joy Lachica, president of the Elementary Teachers of Toronto, which is the Toronto local of ETFO, applauds the board’s “valiant job” in trying to educate parents and make sense of the “chaos” of recent weeks. And she has no doubt the board, which she calls extremely progressive, will encourage the discussion of modern-day topics and create safe spaces for all students. But she maintains there are key issues missing from the current curriculum.
“This (current curriculum) silences anything that has to do with different families. That’s the piece, the invisibility of (LGBTQ+) students and families and members, (and it) creates an isolation for those students and a safety issue.”
“I’m concerned about us accepting the 2010 refresh. It’s incomplete … And it doesn’t inform instruction that keeps our students safe. It doesn’t include consent. And it doesn’t include all the elements that have to do with anti-bullying, anti-cyber bullying and healthy relationships. All the things that children need to learn incrementally.”
Sex-ed: 2010 versus 2015
Here are some examples of what’s in the reissued 2010 curriculum, which contains sex-ed material from 1998, that is currently in use, compared with the previous 2015 curriculum:
2010: Identify major parts of the body by their proper name.
2015: Identify body parts, including genitalia — such as penis, testicles, vagina, vulva — using correct terminology.
2010: Distinguish the similarities between themselves and others, in terms of body size or gender. (This used to be taught in Grade 1, in the 2015 curriculum.)
2015: Outline basic stages of human development — such as infant, child, adolescent, adult, older adult — and related bodily changes, and identify factors that are important for healthy growth and living throughout life.
2010: Describe the four stages of human development — infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood — and identify the physical, interpersonal, and emotional changes appropriate to their current stage.
2015: Describe the physical changes that occur in males and females at puberty — growth of body hair, breast development, changes in voice and body size, production of body odour, skin changes — and the emotional and social impacts that may result from these changes.
2010: Explain the male and female reproductive systems as they relate to fertilization.
2015: Explain the importance of having a shared understanding with a partner about the following: Delaying sexual activity until they are older — for example, choosing to abstain from any genital contact; choosing to abstain from having vaginal or anal intercourse; choosing to abstain from having oral-genital contact — the reasons for not engaging in sexual activity; the concept of consent and how consent is communicated.
Source: The TDSB Guide to the Revised Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74