The Ford government released its revisions to Ontario’s sexual education curriculum today. The updated Health and Physical Education curriculum departs from the current 1998 system by teaching students about issues of gender identity, internet safety, and consent.
The Ministry of Education is also quick to highlight its new “Exemption Policy.” This policy requires school boards to institute procedures by late November that would allow for the exemption of children from sexual education classes.
Parents would be able to pull their children from instruction on Strand D of the Health and Physical Education curriculum. In Strand D, concepts like consent and protection are covered.
The conservative government’s sex-ed program closely mirrors similar alterations executed by their Liberal predecessors. In 2015, the Wynne administration had instituted changes to the 1998 curriculum, only to later have them repealed—an act that would provoke court challenges, school walk-outs, and protest.
The 1998 curriculum brought back by the Ford government 20 years after its introduction, took sex-ed back to the a pre-technological era. Consequently, online porn and sexting were not covered by the curriculum.
Moreover, the 1998 program did not discuss consent, sexual or gender identity.
At the time, Ford justified the changes by citing the lack of consultation that preceded the Wynne administration’s sex-ed plan. Four thousand parents were consulted by the Liberal government as it drafted its 2015 updates.
“The sex-ed component is going to be reverted back to the manner in which it was prior to the changes that were introduced by the Liberal government,” Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson told reporters in 2018. “We’re going to be moving very swiftly with our consultations and I will be sharing with your our process in the weeks to come.”
The Tories subsequently spent more than $1 million on a consultation process that would receive 35,000 submissions. According to the CBC, these submissions were overwhelmingly in favour of modernizing the 1998 curriculum.
Now, as many have remarked, Ford’s new curriculum, leaves the repealed Liberal’s sex-ed program “largely unchanged.”
In terms of key differences, some topics have been moved back to be covered in later grades. The subject of gender identity, for instance, is listed as key subject matter in grade eight rather than in grade six.
The Liberal government had justified teaching body parts, consent, and gender expression at younger ages because children have started hitting puberty at earlier ages.
Meanwhile, although exemptions for sexual education were available under the Liberal government, school boards could refuse exemptions and did not have a codified policy.