Parents concerned about sex-ed rollback in Ottawa public schools

More than two dozen people attended a meeting about the impact of the new provincial government on Ottawa's public board Thursday night.

Indigenous curriculum and race-based data also raised at meeting

Vimy Ridge Public School parent Keara Dean said she worries teachers will question themselves when confronted with questions from students about the 2015 health and sex-ed curriculum. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

People with children in Ottawa's public board got a chance to ask board officials and trustees how changes to Ontario's sex-ed curriculum will affect what's taught in the classroom.  

Questions about the rollback of the controversial 2015 sex-ed curriculum — and the province setting up a complaint line to enforce use of the 1998 curriculum — dominated a parent information meeting at Lady Evelyn Alternative School Thursday evening.

Keara Dean, who has a child at Vimy Ridge Public School, said she's worried teachers will second-guess themselves when asked questions about sexual or gender identity issues that have been dropped from the curriculum.

"I'm not a teacher, but if I knew there was a snitch line that existed, I would be scared," Dean said.

"I want my teachers to be able to teach and not worry about those things."

Dean said the complaint line was "bullying" and she didn't want the school board to back down.

Dorothy Baker, superintendent of curriculum services for the OCDSB, answered questions during a parent meeting Thursday night. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Clubs, celebrations

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) has said the complaint line duplicates its existing complaints process, which allows for more responsive local decision-making.

Dorothy Baker, the OCDSB's superintendent of curriculum services, said there are still ways for schools to address matters of gender identity and sexual diversity.

"Just because that's not specifically in this curriculum does not mean that we do not have our gay-straight alliance clubs, that we don't have celebrations of the lived experiences of our students," she said. 

There are also resources for teachers who have difficulty answering certain questions, she said.

Parent Stephanie Bailey asks OCDSB superintendent Dorothy Baker how schools will handle discussions of LGBTQ issues which aren't addressed by the health curriculum. 0:48

Malaka Hendela, co-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils, said parent councils can help supplement the sex-ed curriculum if they're interested — and, she said, they are not part of the board.

"[If] we can do it with STEM [science, technology, engineering, math], there is no reason why we can't do it with any other messaging if a parent council wants it," she said.

Malaka Hendela, co-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils, said the organization is taking no position on the sex-ed curriculum, but can help parent councils deliver supplemental material. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Jolanta Scott-Parker, who has two children aged eight and 11 in OCDSB schools, said she would like to see the public board take a firmer stance on the curriculum. 

"What I'm hoping to hear is that our school board is going to take a stand and they will use their expertise as educators to continue to teach what they know our kids need in 2018," Scott-Parker said.

Jolanta Scott-Parker said she wants Ottawa's public board to stand up in defence of the 2015 health and sex-ed curriculum. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Trustees weigh in

The meeting was hosted by school board trustees representing the OCDSB's central zones — Erica Braunovan, Chris Ellis and Shawn Menard.

Braunovan said the board's advocacy committee has already met to see how it can address issues such as the sex-ed curriculum rollback and the pause on writing Ontario's Indigenous curriculum.

Ellis and Menard said there will be motions before the board for it to stand by teachers if there are any "inappropriate" complaints.

They also talked about the importance of parents raising issues during consultations for the permanent replacement of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum. 

Braunavan and Ellis are running for re-election as trustees, while Menard is running for Ottawa city council but remains a trustee until the end of November.

Equity issues

The event included presentations from Tim O'Loan on the importance of the Indigenous curriculum, Richard Sharpe on raced-based data collection and Chris Farley Ratcliffe, interim director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, on sex ed.

Left to right: Tim O'Loan, Chris Farley Ratcliffe and Richard Sharpe spoke at the meeting about Indigenous issues, the sex-ed curriculum and race-based data collection, respectively. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The province has suspended writing the second phase of the Indigenous curriculum, which was one of the recommendations made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.

Sharpe has been advocating for the collection of race-based data on disciplinary and success rates in the board.

He said progress has been slow since trustees voted last spring to collect that data.

The board said it is consulting on how it will format that data and intends to begin collecting it this year.

Menard told the meeting the board would have enough money to proceed with the project, even if the PC government changed the Liberal equity policy that previously backed collecting race-based data.