Catholic board open to teaching sexual consent

The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board says it welcomes any adaptations to its curriculum that would help young students better understand sexual consent, but recognizes there will be some challenges.
The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board says it welcomes alterations to their current programs that will better teach the meaning of consent to young students. (iStock)

The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board says it welcomes any adaptations to its curriculum that would help young students better understand sexual consent, but it recognizes there will be some challenges. 

It's in reaction to Premier Kathleen Wynne's push to change Ontario's sex education curriculum. 

Wynne said Monday young students should start learning how to read facial expressions and emotions as early as Grade 1 to give them the ability to understand consent in sexual relations. 

It all started when Wynne met with two Grade 8 girls from Toronto on Monday, who presented her with a petition with 38,000 signatures, asking that the concept of consent and healthy relationships be incorporated into the updated sex education curriculum. 

Ontario plans to update its sex education curriculum this fall for the first time since 1998.

Catholic board says programs already teach sensitive topics 

While it is not yet clear how the topic of consent will be taught, the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board said it already has programs that introduces students to topics like what's appropriate and what's not appropriate, said Cathy Geml, the associate director of education for student achievement. 

"The present program does have a section on feelings, actually has the faces, shows feelings underneath, the children match them," said Geml. "There's role-plays, all of that is already part of our curriculum."

These programs are called WIT ( walk away, ignore, talked to somebody and seek help) and Fully Alive. 

"The world has changed so we have to change the way we do things and approach situations," said Geml. "I think our children are more streetwise now than they've ever been before, but I also think we have to be cognizant of the fact that they are very young."

The former Grade 1 and Grade 2 teacher admits when it comes to teaching students this young what consent means, it's not an easy task.  

"You talk to children about what is appropriate and what is not, the use of the words sexual touching has not been used widely in those primary grades," said Geml. 

Geml said students can pick up on more simplistic facial expressions, but others are more difficult. 

"I don't know what a facial expression would be to say appropriate consent or not," explains Geml. "I think they just need to understand barriers. They need to understand when a person says no, it means no. And what does that mean when they say no? It means you stop."

Educators need training on teaching consent 

Kim Stanton, the legal director of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), said her organization pushed the issue of sexual consent through the courts since the 90s. 

She said the dialogue needs to start sooner. 

"What we find is that it's amazing how little understanding it is later on of what consent actually means," Stanton explains. "For example that it is not consent if the person is unconscious, it is not consent if the person is too drunk to be able to consent or not."

In an email to CBC Windsor the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said it hopes there will be training for teachers to help them feel comfortable to teach the subject.

"From a teacher's perspective, I am hoping that there will be training and in service given to teachers to also help equip them with this subject, as this may be new territory and we also need to make sure that teachers feel comfortable in the delivery of these new curriculum expectations," said Adelina Cecchin, President of Greater Essex ETFO.


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