Ontario government says it has an interim sex-ed curriculum elementary teachers must follow

The Ontario government has released an interim sex-ed curriculum for elementary school teachers to use this September — and Premier Doug Ford is suggesting there will be consequences if they don't adhere to it.

'If we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act,' premier says in news release

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says teachers will be expected to teach the interim sex-ed curriculum, and the government will act if they don't. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Ontario government has released an interim sex-ed curriculum for elementary school teachers to use this September, and Premier Doug Ford is suggesting there will be consequences if they don't adhere to it.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) was quick to blast the plan, accusing the Ford government of creating chaos instead of addressing the real issues facing the public school system just weeks before classes resume.

The Progressive Conservative government issued a news release about the changes on Wednesday afternoon, while also announcing plans for what it called an "unprecedented" provincewide consultation process on education reform and a future parents' bill of rights.

The Ford government has faced sharp criticism from a number of groups — including teachers' unions, many parents and the Official Opposition — over its decision to scrap the modernized sex-ed curriculum brought in by the former Liberal government in 2015, which included information about online bullying, sexting and gender identity.

A group of human rights lawyers are also challenging the government's decision in court on behalf of six families.

Neither Ford nor Education Minister Lisa Thompson took questions from reporters on Wednesday.

High school curriculum not changing — for now

The government's news release says teachers will use the 2014 health and physical education curriculum, which has been denounced by critics as the guidelines have been in place since 1998, predating smartphones, social media and the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Simon Jefferies, Ford's spokesperson, said only students in Grades 1 to 8 will be taught the 223-page interim curriculum, which has now been posted online.

"The high school health and physical education curriculum is not changing in the interim consultation period," he said in an email to CBC News.

A government backgrounder urges any parent who believes a teacher is "jeopardizing their child's education by deliberately ignoring Ontario's curriculum" to alert the Ontario College of Teachers' investigations department.

Meanwhile, Ford appears to be taking a hard line about what will be taught when classes resume.

"We expect our teachers, principals and school board officials to fulfil their obligations to parents and children when it comes to what our students learn in the classroom," the premier said in the news release.

"We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games. And, make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act."

Teachers' union still has questions

ETFO President Sam Hammond warned in a news release that Ford's sex-ed curriculum changes 'will put a chill on the classroom and limit teachers' ability to meet the needs of students.' (CBC)

The province's largest teachers' unions have promised to defend any educator who continues to use the modernized curriculum.

ETFO president Sam Hammond attacked Ford's request that parents alert the authorities if their child is being taught the modernized curriculum. He called the move "unprecedented, outrageous, and shameful" in a tweet.

In a statement, Hammond said accused the government of misrepresenting how sex education is being taught with the goal of "manufacturing a crisis."

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said there's still "a huge lack of clarity" about what high school teachers will and won't be allowed to do when classes resume, even though they'll be free to use the latest curriculum.

Teachers would normally be able to teach what's in the curriculum, as well as enhancing it or answering additional questions without worrying about an "implied threat" from the government that doing so could get them in trouble, he said.

"It's a very peculiar way to go forward, to say the least," ​Bischof said of Ford's statements.

The OSSTF wasn't given any notice that the government was prepared to unveil an interim curriculum, he said.

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) chair Robin Pilkey also expressed frustration with the lack of clarity.

"Parents would have expected the province to have explained more clearly the differences between the two curriculums — both over 200 pages — but based on the information released today, we're disappointed to see that it's still very unclear," she said in an email statement.

Pilkey also pointed out the TDSB already has a protocol for parents who are concerned about what their children are being taught.

Consultation process will look at range of issues

A government backgrounder says the consultations will aim to create an "age-appropriate" health and physical education curriculum that includes "mental health, sex-ed and legalization of cannabis."

The government also said it plans to unveil an interim math curriculum in the coming weeks.

The PCs say the consultations will include an online survey, telephone town halls across the province, and a submission platform where the government will accept detailed proposals.

The government had initially promised to give the public a chance to weigh in on a new sex-ed curriculum. It now says the consultations will also seek parental feedback on number of issues, including math scores, cellphone use, financial literacy and how best to prepare students with needed job skills.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education refused to say how much the consultation process will cost. 

With files from Farrah Merali, Meagan Fitzpatrick and The Canadian Press