The Current

'I'm really going to be relying on parents': Ontario teachers grapple with Ford's sex-ed program

The Ontario government has scrapped its 2015 sex-ed program and has created a hotline for snitching on dissenting teachers, but critics say the interim curriculum is outdated.

New snitch-line has left some educators spooked

Ontario elementary school teachers are being told to use an interim health curriculum, which is mostly drawn from lesson plans drafted 20 years ago and omits conversations about gender and consent.

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Ontario's elementary school teachers are back in front of the classroom, and say they are navigating how to best handle the province's contentious sexual health curriculum and teacher "snitch-line."

Over the summer, Premier Doug Ford announced that the 2015 sex-ed curriculum would be repealed. That version included information about sexual orientation, gender identity, consent and named body parts in Grade 1. It was met with protests by some parents.

As Ford drafts a new sex-ed program, Ontario elementary school teachers are being told to use an interim curriculum drawn mostly from lesson plans drafted in 1998. Ford has also introduced a "snitch-line" to anonymously report dissenting educators.

'Parents to fill in the gaps'

Alanna Hermans, a Grade 7/8 teacher at St James Catholic School in Eganville, Ont., feels "her hands are tied." She liked the 2015 curriculum but is intimidated by the government's directive.

"There's so much missing from that 1998 curriculum," she told The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti, "But I really can't get into those discussions."

She says parents will end up shouldering the burden for topics like sexual diversity and inclusion that fall outside of the language of the 1998 program.

"I'm going to be relying on parents to fill in the gaps … 'Ask that question to your mother and father tonight.'"

Hermans appreciates how challenging some of the concepts introduced in the 2015 version can be — particularly those surrounding gender fluidity — but she believes parents need to come to terms with the rapidly changing landscape of identity politics.

"It's very confusing, it's confusing to adults but … [Kids] need to be aware of the terms — what they're hearing — and have some form of knowledge about it, so that they're not ignorant to it," she said.

ETFO, a major Ontario teachers' union, announced Monday it is taking legal action to fight the Ontario government's decision to repeal the 2015 version of the sex-ed curriculum. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

'Right to ensure that all of our students feel safe'

In contrast, Yeliz Sherifali, who teaches Grade 7 and 8 health in the Waterloo Regional School Board, says she's not going to stop teaching the 2015 curriculum when appropriate.

She maintains it is her "professional responsibility to provide factual information" so students can make decisions "best suited for them and their families."

"Yes, we have a responsibility to assess evaluate and report on the curriculum expectations, but we also have a responsibility and a right to ensure that all of our students feel safe in the classroom — that they're included — and that they're reflected in the learning material."

Listen to the full conversation near the top of the page. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Julie Crysler, Allie Jaynes and Anna Maria Tremonti.