Enrolment dropped by about 2,000 elementary students at the Toronto District School Board in the current school year in part because of the province's revised sexual health curriculum, says a public school board trustee.
"We don't know exactly why the drop has occurred," Gerri Gerson, TDSB trustee for Ward 13, Don Valley West, told Metro Morning on Thursday.
"Our projections are usually quite accurate and we do feel that there's some factor having to do with the sexual health curriculum."
She said the TDSB expects its projections to be off by about one per cent, or 1,700 students, every year, but there was a loss of 2,083 elementary students in the 2015-2016 school year. The province's revised health and physical education curriculum started in September 2015.
One school in particular, Thorncliffe Park Public School, which runs from grade 1 to 5, saw a drop of enrolment of about 90 students.
Following protests by hundreds of parents in September, Thorncliffe Park began to allow some Grade 1 students to attend alternative classes on sexual health in May. Some students are learning about "private body parts" instead of proper names for genitalia. The alternate version was offered by the school to accommodate religious beliefs of certain families.
The school found itself at the centre of a controversy last year when hundreds of parents protested and pulled their children from class because they felt the curriculum wasn't appropriate for young children. The community has a large immigrant population, including many parents with strong conservative or faith-based backgrounds who have been very critical of the province's plan.
"We want the kids in school. We want them to be learning. We want them to be participating," Gerson said.
She said the Thorncliffe Park principal Jeff Crane has met with 650 parents to explain how the school would accommodate concerns about the sexual health curriculum.
According to the Facebook group, Thorncliffe Parents Association, the accommodation is an "artificial sweetener" and it fails to address their major issues of concern about such topics as gender fluidity, consent, romantic relationships and different sexual practices.
Gerson acknowledged that the Facebook group may be influencing parents when they are deciding whether to school their children at home or send them to private institutions.
"We provide an excellent, excellent program for the kids," she said. "Parents have a right to do what they wish as far as schooling is concerned."
Gerson said enrolment has partially bounced back at the TDSB and enrolment is currently greater than the number predicted for next year. She said that may be a result of children of Syrian refugees now going to TDSB schools.
As for Thorncliffe Park, enrolment projections for next year are difficult, Gerson said.
"It's very tricky, especially in an apartment community where there is a lot of mobility. It's very hard to predict."