Revised sex-ed curriculum gets mixed reviews from parents

While some parents say they're pleased with aspects of Ontario's revised sex education curriculum, others are calling it a "betrayal" by Premier Doug Ford's government.

For some, new lesson plan goes too far, while for others it doesn't go far enough

The revised sex-education curriculum contains many of the elements critics were hoping the Ford government would dump from the curriculum introduced under the previous Liberal government in 2015. (Shutterstock)

While some parents say they're pleased with aspects of Ontario's revised sex education curriculum, others are calling it a "betrayal" by Premier Doug Ford's government.

The Ministry of Education released the revised curriculum for elementary schools Wednesday morning, but despite Ford's election promise to repeal the 2015 curriculum introduced under the previous Liberal government, the new curriculum contains many of the same elements.

"It's a total betrayal of Ontario parents because Doug Ford promised to repeal Kathleen Wynne's sex education program and he did not," said Hanna Kepka, who removed her children from the public school system after the 2015 curriculum was introduced.

Elementary school too early

Kepka is the government relations representative for the Campaign Life Coalition in Ottawa. The group has been a strong voice in calling for the 2015 sex-ed curriculum to be overhauled.

She feels the government placated her group by listening to their concerns, only to reverse its original plans.

Kepka believes elementary school is too early to learn about same-sex unions, and doesn't think masturbation should be part of the curriculum at all because she sees it as a slippery slope toward watching pornography.

"We need to teach children healthy relationships, and pornography has absolutely no room in that because pornography is [becoming] progressively more and more aggressive, violent, abusive, debasing."

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said in a statement that parents can exempt their child from the human development and sexual health education component of the curriculum, as mandated by the province.

"The OCDSB will review the new curriculum and collaborate with parents, teachers, and students as we develop this procedure," the statement said. 

Trans issues on hold until Grade 8

Under the revised curriculum, sexual orientation will be taught in Grade 6, but gender identity and expression won't be discussed until students are in Grade 8.

For Amanda Jetté Knox, whose own daughter began to transition in Grade 6, that's too late. 

Knox said when her daughter began growing her hair out and wearing different clothes, her classmates couldn't understand what was going on.

"The kids had no idea what this meant, and she was very bullied, very ostracized, and we actually had to pull her out of school," she said.

Amanda Jetté Knox is the mother of a transgender child and lives with a transgender partner. She feels education around gender identity and expression should be introduced earlier than Grade 8.

Knox believes children should be exposed to concepts around gender identity — including the idea that some people may not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth — sooner.

"This is actually a pretty simple concept for a lot of kids to get if it's explained to them, and if that had happened and then she had come out, I think a lot of kids would have been like, 'Oh yeah, I know what that is, no problem,' and she would have found a lot more acceptance, less confusion, less judgment."

Schools have an important role to play, Knox said, because many parents don't understand trans issues either, and aren't teaching their children about them at home

"Issues that we don't understand, we often fear. So, by removing that lack of knowledge, by giving the kids knowledge, we're then removing the fear and the stigma, and we're letting kids just be themselves."

Elizabeth Kettle, president of the local chapter of the Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario, said the entire process has been a waste of time and money. 

"The government chose to spend millions of dollars on consultations and now we have that 2015 curriculum back again," she said. 

She said the government went through a large process to find out most parents were fine with the curriculum the last government proposed.  

"They found out that this is what parents, this is what the community really wants."