Ontario sex-ed protest 'unlike anything I've ever experienced,' principal says

A principal at a Toronto elementary school is frustrated over parents' opposition to the sex education component of Ontario's health and physical education curriculum.

Jeff Crane of Toronto's Thorncliffe Park school works to dispel 'myths' to get kids back in class

Sex-ed protest a test for principal

8 years ago
Duration 7:47
A principal fights to keep his students in school as parents protest Ontario's sex-ed curriculum

He doesn't want to be there, but Jeff Crane is on the front lines of a provincewide debate over the sex education component of Ontario's new health and physical education curriculum. 

Crane is the principal of Toronto's Thorncliffe Park Public School. 

Crane should have 1,400 students at the elementary school every weekday. Instead, he's averaging about 1,200 as parents keep kids home over opposition to the sex education component of the curriculum, which was updated this year for the first time since 1998. 

Crane, exasperated by the protests, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Thursday he wants to see the students back in school. 

"It's been unlike anything I've ever experienced or ever thought I would experience in a school in Toronto," Crane told host Matt Galloway. "I've spent the past several weeks trying to convince parents to come to school. I never thought we would be doing that in the city of Toronto."

Crane said since the protests began at the start of the school year, he has been busy meeting with small groups of parents, trying to assure them that sex education forms a "tiny component" just "a few lessons" of the overall health and physical education curriculum. 

Most of the parents opposed to the curriculum have roots in countries outside Canada. Many feel the curriculum — which teaches students the correct names of sex organs in Grade 1, discusses same-sex relationships by Grade 3, and outlines the perils of sexting in Grade 7 — is  "too much too soon."

The Wynne government has said the upgraded curriculum is needed to keep children safe in light of changes in technology since the late 1990s, including the advent of social media and the widespread use of smartphones.

'I can't reach them,' principal says of hardcore protesters

But Crane said other parents, a minority among those protesting, have told him their opposition stems from the belief the curriculum is part of a "homosexual indoctrination of Ontario" led by Premier Kathleen Wynne.

"It's become more about that than about the curriculum," he said. "These protesters are unreasonable. I can't reach them." 

As the protest has continued, Crane said parents are holding teaching sessions in groups at a park near the school and in a local community centre using "books from Costco."

"They aren't being taught properly," he said. 

Crane said he has had to chase protesters handing out misleading information away from his school. Last month, the words "shame on you" were spray painted on a school building. 

So Crane continues his work to "dispel myths" about the curriculum and ensure the school is a welcoming place for all students. 

He said his goal is to convince parents that his school "is a place that you can still trust."