School board seeking legal opinion about sex ed curriculum

The London region's public school board is asking lawyers how far it can allow teachers to teach beyond the 1998 sex-education curriculum when classes resume in September.

Teachers have the discretion to teach 'above and beyond' the sex ed curriculum, school board chair says

The Thames Valley Education Centre main offices on Dundas Street. (Dave Chidley/CBC)

The London region's public school board is asking lawyers how far it can allow teachers to teach beyond the 1998 sex-education curriculum when classes resume in September. 

Teachers at the Thames Valley District School Board have "flexibility" to go above and beyond the curriculum that they teach, said Matt Reid, the chair of the board of trustees. 

"The school board really wants to convey to the school community that we are still committed that all members of our community feel accepted and safe in our schools," Reid said. 

"Time is ticking, the summer is going to be over before we know it, and we need to be able to hit the ground running in September. We can't be holding off on teaching sex ed until later in the year because the ministry hasn't released the curriculum." 
Matt Reid, chair of the board of trustees at the Thames Valley District School Board. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

The newly-elected Doug Ford government has said it will consult thousands of parents about what a new physical education and health curriculum — which includes sex ed — should look like. In the meantime, Ford has instructed teachers to go back to the curriculum from 1998, written before sexting, legal gay marriage and an evolving understanding of sexual assault and consent.

A new curriculum, released in 2015, drew the ire of a small number of social conservatives and Ford promised to repeal it should he get elected. 

'I want teachers to feel empowered'

"I'm getting a legal opinion about what could be the legal implications for a teacher that continues to use the 2015 curriculum," Reid said. 

"I want our teachers to feel empowered that they're meeting the needs of our students, that our LGBTQ+ students feel accepted, that students can have discussions about consent. In this era of #metoo, those discussions are really important for our students to be able to have."

Reid said he's not encouraging teachers to go against the 1998 curriculum, but that teachers can use their discretion. 

"With any subject, teachers can teach beyond the curriculum, and I personally hope that teachers understand that they will be supported if they teach to support the local needs of their students, because we don't want our students to feel left out or confused or to be without essential information they need to protect themselves. 

Statement to teachers, parents and students

Reid and Director of Education Laura Elliott released the following statement to Thames Valley teachers, parents and students: 

The Ontario government recently announced its intention to begin public consultation on a new Health and Physical Education Curriculum. The government has also said the current curriculum, last revised in 2015, will be "temporarily replaced" this fall with the previous version introduced in 1998.

While the government has indicated teachers will have some "flexibility," the Ministry of Education has not yet provided any details to school boards.  As soon as information is received, TVDSB will communicate with staff, students and families.

TVDSB wishes to assure parents, guardians, staff and community members that, regardless of the Health and Physical Education Curriculum, the Board will uphold its responsibilities and obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Education Act and Board policies to ensure respect, inclusion and safety of all.

TVDSB will continue to be an inclusive organization that works to affirm all identities on a daily basis, including students and families identifying as LGBT2Q+. All students and family members have the right to feel safe, included and valued at school and this requires that students see their identities reflected in real world school and classroom activities.

As leaders in public education, we commit to being inclusive, fair and equitable by empowering students to become caring community members and responsible global citizens, and recognizing and celebrating the contributions and diversity of students, staff and volunteers.

Laura Elliott, Director of Education

Matt Reid, Chair of the Board