Ontario bishops pleased with McGuinty's about-face on sex ed curriculum

  • April 23, 2010
Sex EducationTORONTO - The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario has welcomed Premier Dalton McGuinty''s decision to rethink a controversial sex ed curriculum for elementary school students.

“We certainly welcome this new round of consultations and the Catholic community will offer its input. We will continue working with the Ministry of Education as we always have,” Lou Piovesan, the Assembly's general secretary, told The Catholic Register.

McGuinty had formally announced and defended the new curriculum on April 20 which would have introduced terms like oral sex, anal intercourse and masturbation to Grades 6 and 7 students and taught Grade 3 students about sexual identity and orientation. The new curriculum would have started with lessons about the proper names of body parts, including genitalia, to Grade 1 students.

But two days later, after some vocal opposition from parents and religious groups, McGuinty decided to reconsider.

“The government has decided to revisit the revised curriculum and create more opportunities for parents to provide input. The government is currently considering next steps and will provide more information as soon as it is available,” said Ministry of Education spokesperson Gary Wheeler.

The changes would have been part of a new curriculum on health and physical education which was quietly introduced on the education ministry's web site in January. It had gone largely unnoticed until a religious group led by evangelist Charles McVety announced he was organizing a May 10 protest against the previously proposed changes.

Before the government's about-face on April 22, McGuinty had said all publicly funded schools, including Catholic schools, would have to implement the new changes in the fall. Now, the premier says the reason for reconsidering the new curriculum was because of the concerns he heard from parents.

Murielle Boudreau, chair of the Greater Toronto Catholic Parent Network, told The Catholic Register, said the group's main concern was the lack of consultation with parents.

“The main issue was that this was taking control out of the parents' hands completely (with regard to) the degree of sexual information to be given to children,” she said. “It's not up to the government to tell us that. The parent decides that.”

Boudreau, who has a daughter in Grade 10 attending a public Catholic school, said she spoke with many parents who were “flabbergasted” about the proposed curriculum.

Sex education for children starting in Grade 1 could confuse students who are too young to understand such sensitive topics and need a qualified adult, especially their parents, to explain to them what is being taught, Boudreau said.

“If we don't have any more religious rights in this province, let us know because that's a different ball game.”  

In a statement before McGuinty's reversal, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario also re-asserted the rights of Ontario's public Catholic schools.

“As a general response, provincial curriculum which is to be implemented in Catholic schools should respect the denominational rights explicitly accorded in Section 93 of Canada's Constitution and reinforced in Section 29 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Piovesan said.

“In particular, when it comes to matters of faith and morality, the aforementioned denominational rights accorded to Catholic schools in Ontario would supersede Ministry of Education proposed curriculum content (in those specific areas) if it is determined that the content is at variance with the principles and teaching of the Catholic Church.”  

But for Catholic teachers, there wouldn't have been a big change in teaching sex education, says the head of the Catholic teachers' union. James Ryan, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, told The Register that students in Catholic schools are already taught what the government had been proposing in the new curriculum, but through age-appropriate lesson plans and within a Catholic lens. The program, called “Fully Alive,” which begins in Grade 1, teaches students in Grade 3 about human sexuality, Ryan said.

“We view that human sexuality is not purely about the physical sense, but (students) are taught all about relationships and love. Sexuality is about love,” he said.

Ryan added that topics such as homosexuality and sexual orientation, which were included in the government's proposed curriculum, are already taught to Catholic students in Grade 8 and are in line with Catholic teachings and emphasize chastity, non-discrimination and respect for others.

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