Sex-ed edict frustrates local educators

London educators react to this week's announcement of a rollback of the province's sex-education curriculum and punitive measures for teachers who refuse to teach it.

Local educators are reeling at this week's announcement from the provincial government to revert to the 2014 sex-ed curriculum for elementary school students. 

The edict — which comes days before classes are set to resume — was packaged in a news release that threatens action for teachers who don't comply. 

There are other elements to the announcement: the government is promising a province-wide consultation process to gather input from parents with an online survey and telephone town halls. 

But the plan also includes a new website where parents can file complaints, which Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond has called a "snitch line."

Here's how three local educators are reacting to the announcement. 

The teacher

Amber Yerema says ditching the 2015 version of Ontario's sex-ed curriculum leaves students vulnerable to harm. (Facebook)

Amber Yerema is a Londoner who teaches Grades 7 and 8 at C. C. Carrothers Public School in south London. 

"I'm not surprised, but I'm frustrated," said Yerema. "It's frustrating when your government turns its back on teachers who are wanting to do what's right for students." 

Yerema says the snitch line will cost money to operate. 

"Who's going to follow it and investigate?"

Yerema says she gets daily questions from students about things like sexting, the #MeToo movement and online pornography, all things that aren't included in a curriculum that was largely written back in 1998.

"Consent is something that's brought up in my classroom consistently," she said. "To remove consent language from the curriculum is mind-blowing."

Yerema says she doesn't expect teachers will refuse to answer students' questions about topics like masturbation or LGBTQ families. 

"I'm not going to not talk about it. If there's fallout, that's the risk I take." 

The education professor

Dr. Susan Roger says the government's position on enforcing the sex-ed curriculum draws unnecessary battle lines between teachers and parents. (Western University)

Dr. Susan Rodger is a psychologist and associate professor in the Faculty of Education at Western University.

As a teacher who prepares students for a career in education, she says the combative tone of the government's announcement will draw new battle lines between different groups working in education. 

"It's very divisive," she said. "There's a collaboration, a partnership, between the ministry of education, our teachers, our schools and our school boards.  When we have this most recent threat of sanctioning of teachers, it certainly doesn't move our partnership forward."

Rodger also said school curricula are broad guidelines for teachers in all subjects. But when it comes to sex-ed, it's used as a political football at the expense of students' health. 

"We have to be careful about who decides what is the right thing for students to be learning," she said. 

She worries the threat of sanctions could increase rates of teacher burnout, already a factor in Ontario classrooms.

"Working under threat makes it difficult for anybody to do their job well."

The union leader

Craig Smith is president of the Thames Valley Teacher local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO). He says the government website to gather concerns from parents isn't needed, saying there's already well-established ways for parents to connect with teachers. (Twitter)

Craig Smith is the president of the Thames Valley Teacher local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

He fears the spirit and tone of the government's announcement comes from "a dark place" of anti-teacher sentiment. 

His main concern is that the anonymous website for parent complaints circumvents existing ways to resolve parents' concerns about what students are learning. 

"It bypasses the basic relationship we have with parents," said Smith in an interview Thursday on CBC's Afternoon Drive