Toronto

Wynne 'heard the calls' about sex-ed messaging from Peel school board chair

Premier Kathleen Wynne and her education minister have talked a lot about the updated sexual education curriculum, but she says the government has also provided many materials to ensure the public can read about those changes for themselves.

Some Peel parents threaten to pull kids out of school for a week in protest of changes

Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum has sparked multiple protests at Queen's Park in recent months. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Education Minister Liz Sandals have talked a lot about the updated sexual education curriculum, but the premier says the government has also provided many materials to ensure the public can read about those changes for themselves.

"I have spoken to dozens of media outlets, the minister has spoken to dozens of media outlets," Wynne said Tuesday, when asked by a reporter whether the government had done enough to disseminate information about the curriculum changes.

"There is information that has been distributed around the province and is available online. It's available to all of the school trustees and parents in the province [and] clarifies the myths and the realities in the health and physical education document."

The question came to the premier after the chair of the Peel District School Board suggested the province needed to do more to combat misinformation about the new curriculum.

Wynne said she had "heard the calls" of the school board chair regarding the curriculum.

"I think that if she would like to do an event in Peel where we, you know, we bring together the community and the school board is there with us and we have clarification, I think that's a great idea and that's certainly something that the minister will offer to her," the premier said.

A spokesperson for the premier later clarified that Wynne had not made any specific offer about involvement in such a meeting.

Hundreds of parents from within that board have threatened to pull their kids out of school for a week from May 4 to 11 in protest of the curriculum. They have set up a Facebook page called "Parents and students on strike: one week no school" to organize their movement and encourage other parents to join them. 

Nadia Farhan is among those parents intending to keep her children home from school on Monday. Instead, they will be protesting the new curriculum.

"It's not age-appropriate," she told CBC News on Tuesday. "I wouldn't like my first-grader to be taught in depth about the body parts. I wouldn't like my third-grader to learn about the gender fluidity."

Farhan said that if the government doesn't address her concerns, she'll consider home-schooling her children.

The new curriculum aims to teach children about a number of issues currently missing in sexual education in the province, including same-sex marriage, consent and sexting. It is the first update to the material in 17 years. It will be implemented in September. 

Earlier this month, thousands gathered outside Queen's Park in Toronto to protest the changes. 

Peel District School Board chair Janet McDougald told CBC Radio's Metro Morning Tuesday that trustees, at the request of "hundreds of parents," will send a letter to the Education Ministry asking for clarification on the details of curriculum — despite the entire curriculum being online.

"They think the information is sensitive, it's graphic and they are worried about the age appropriateness of the material," McDougald said, adding that parents feel disenfranchised from the entire process. 

Opt-out option already available

A significant proportion of those expressing concern are Muslim, according to McDougald.

Parents in Ontario, however, already have the right to opt out of any parts of the curriculum they are uncomfortable with and Peel frequently accommodates those requests. 

But the Education Ministry should lay out what will happen if hundreds of students opt out all at once, said McDougald, citing concerns about student safety if they are not in the classroom.

"If there are two or three hundred children who decide to opt out, then we really need the ministry to clarify this process for us," she said.

Similarly, parents are asking that the ministry send them letters to notify them exactly when and what material will be taught on any given day. 

The Peel public board will meet tonight and send the letter in the coming days. It's not clear if or when Sandals might sit down with the board and concerned parents. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story had a headline and accompanying text that suggested Premier Kathleen Wynne was open to sending the education minister to meet with parents in Peel Region. A spokesperson for the premier later clarified that Wynne had not made any specific offer about involvement in such a meeting.
    Apr 28, 2015 7:28 PM ET

With a report from the CBC's Michelle Cheung

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