Ontario Tory minister flip-flops on sex-ed curriculum stance

Ontario's education minister says despite the government's plans to scrap the modernized sex-ed curriculum, students will continue to be taught about things like consent and gender identity this fall.

Government backtracked Monday on whether consent, gender identity will be taught in schools

Education Minister Lisa Thompson says students will still learn about some concepts introduced in the modernized sex-ed curricuclum, despite saying last week the province would revert to a version first used in 1998. (CBC)

Ontario's education minister went back and forth Monday on just what students will learn while her government scraps the province's modernized sex-ed curriculum.

Ultimately, Lisa Thompson indicated that no decisions had been made on whether concepts like consent, cyber safety and gender identity will be taught in classrooms this fall. 

The province's new Progressive Conservative government announced last week that it was reverting to a 1998 version of the curriculum while consultations are carried out to create a new document. 

Thompson first told the legislature on Monday that not all parts of the modernized sex-ed curriculum — updated in 2015 by the Liberals — would be scrapped.

"We know they need to learn about consent," she said at the legislature. "We know they need to learn about cyber safety, we know they need to learn about gender identity and appreciation. But we also know that the former Liberal government's consultation process was completely flawed."

'No decisions on what new curriculum will look like'

A short time later, Thompson told reporters that only a portion of the curriculum will be rolled back, not the entire document.

"What we'll be looking at is the developing sexual relations," she said. "That's the part in the curriculum that we'll be taking a look at."

Late Monday afternoon, however, Thompson's office released a statement that appeared to contradict her comments from earlier in the day.

 "We have made no decisions on what the new curriculum will look like. The final decision on the scope of the new curriculum will be based on what we hear from Ontario parents," the statement said. 

"While these consultations occur, we are reverting to the full health and physical education curriculum that was last taught in 2014. This curriculum leaves ample space to discuss current social issues."

September around the corner

Premier Doug Ford repeatedly promised to repeal and replace the sex-ed curriculum during his run for the Tory leadership earlier this year and during the spring election, saying parents had not  been adequately consulted.

Critics have said the 1998 version of the curriculum did not include many modern themes that children need to keep themselves safe online and did not address things like same-sex marriage.

The modernized curriculum included warnings about online bullying and sexting that were not in the previous version, and also discussed same-sex marriage, gender identity and masturbation.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday's developments make it clear the Tory government does not know what it's doing on the sex-ed file. 

"September is coming pretty quick," she said. "It's reprehensible and irresponsible that this government has left
everything in such a disarray that educators in our province aren't even aware of what's going to happen come September."

'These conversations are still going to happen'

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser questioned why the government wanted to repeal a curriculum that has been taught in classrooms across the province for three years.

"It's irresponsible to cancel that curriculum," he said. "It's there to protect our children."

Jason Kunin, an English teacher in Toronto, said regardless of what the Tory government does with sex-ed, teachers will address modern issues in class. 

"Whether you have it enshrined in the documents or not, you can't simply say we're going to pretend like these things don't exist and expect 60,000 teachers in Ontario to suddenly go along with pretending that it's 1998," said Kunin, who signed on to an online petition condemning the government's scrapping of the modernized health curriculum among other issues.

"You can repeal the curriculum but these conversations are still going to happen."

With files from CBC News