HWDSB trying to balance inclusivity with move to repeal modern sex-ed curriculum

As a new school year begins, Hamilton's public board is preparing to balance inclusivity and equity with the Ministry of Education's repeal of a modernized sex-ed curriculum.

Teachers' union has launched a legal challenge to the government's repeal of modernized sex-ed

Manny Figueiredo, director of education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, says staff will be working to balance inclusivity with the provincial government's move to scrap modernized sex-ed this school year. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

As a new school year begins, Hamilton's public board is preparing to balance inclusivity and equity with the Ministry of Education's repeal of a modernized sex-ed curriculum.

Manny Figueiredo, ​director of education for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, said the decision by Ontario's Progressive Conservative government to scrap the 2015 sex-ed curriculum has left staff in a tough spot.

"We have to follow the ministry directions in terms of the curriculum they set," he explained. "But we also honour the professional judgment of teachers and we have to ensure, in terms of human rights and equity, that students feel included and welcome."

Scrapping the previous government's curriculum, which included warnings about online bullying and sexting along with gender identity and masturbation, was a key campaign promise for Premier Doug Ford.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario in Ottawa on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The provincial government has also warned there will be consequences for teachers who use the modernized version of the lesson plan put in place by the Liberals in 2015.

Figueiredo's comments come as one of Ontario's largest teachers' unions launched a legal challenge to the government's decision.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is seeking an injunction to keep the curriculum in place and to stop what it calls the government's "snitch line" where parents can report non-compliant teachers.

ETFO President Sam Hammond, left, and Howard Goldblatt of Goldblatt Partners LLP, right, outline the union's plan to take legal action to fight the Ontario government's repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

ETFO President Sam Hammond described the government's decision as reckless. He added the union's legal action is vital to ensure that educators and school boards can continue to protect the safety and health of students.

"Teaching issues like consent, LGBTQ relationships, gender identities and many other human development issues related to today's realities are not only necessary but vital for student safety, well-being and inclusivity," he said.

Topics won't 'disappear'

Figueiredo said his board doesn't intend to back away from issues of inclusivity.

"Students have to see themselves in the school, reflected in the topics teachers will bring forward and we're going to support them because there's some tension there between will certain topics disappear and will certain students be disadvantaged," he explained.

"Although there might not be explicit teaching of certain topics we still need to respond to student needs."

with files from the Canadian Press