Interim sex-ed curriculum leaves school boards scrambling

Ottawa school boards say they're scrambling to implement the Ontario government's interim sex-ed curriculum, unveiled Wednesday.

OCDSB 'disappointed,' but won't ask teachers to defy province

Shirley Seward, chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, says Ontario's Ministry of Education still has to flesh out the requirements of the interim sex-ed curriculum, and that it's 'disappointing.' (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Ottawa's largest school board says it's disappointed with the Ontario government's order to return to the 1998 sex-education curriculum, but won't ask teachers to defy the province.

The Progressive Conservative government announced the interim curriculum for students in Grades 1 through 8 in a news release Wednesday

The release also said here would be consequences for educators who failed to adhere.

Earlier this summer, the chair of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) said teachers would be directed to use the 2015 sex-ed curriculum if the province didn't provide clarification on what materials to use in the interim.

Shirley Seward said the board supports the 2015 curriculum because it reflects where society is today. 

"We're disappointed with the announcement. However, the majority of trustees are not willing to advocate at the expense of our staff," she said Wednesday.

"We're not prepared to put our staff in a position where we are perceived as a board to have broken the education law with respect to curriculum."

Seward said OCDSB trustees will be encouraging the community to participate in the consultations on the 2019 curriculum. 

Teachers on shaky ground

The Ontario government has created a website where parents can complain if they feel "their child's teacher is jeopardizing their child's education by deliberately ignoring Ontario's curriculum."

Seward said that threat of consequences put teachers on shaky ground if a student raises a question that falls in the gap between what was covered in the 2015 version, but isn't in the 1998 version. 

"It's incumbent on the ministry to make clear to everybody what its expectations are, because this really is an unstable kind of environment for our teachers and it's not a great way to begin a new school year," she said.

Seward said the online complaint tool both duplicates and undermines the existing ombudsman system, which empowered local authorities from principals on up to resolve complaints before escalating them.

"It really concerns me and I think it should concern everybody — including parents," she said.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has said it would "vigorously" defend any teacher who teaches the 2015 curriculum and attacked the government's request parents alert authorities about teachers who do. 

The union's president called the move "unprecedented, outrageous, and shameful" in a tweet.

The president of ETFO's Ottawa branch was not available for an interview Wednesday evening.

A week to prepare

The new school year is a little more than a week away and Ottawa school boards say they've either just received some direction from the ministry of haven't received the detailed instruction they need.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board said it received information about the curriculum changes after Wednesday's news release and will work to implement the ministry's curriculum.

Eastern Ontario's French-language Catholic board, Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, said in a statement it is still waiting for instructions and detailed materials from the ministry for the interim curriculum. 

It said it will abide by the laws, policies and regulations that come from the ministry.

The French-language public board, Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario, said it received information about the interim curriculum around the same time as the announcement and is pleased it came before the start of the school year.

"We'll make it our priority to make sure that we share the information and have the proper supports for our teachers," said Matthieu Vachon, a superintendent with the board.