CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Parent group wary about sex ed survey

  • November 21, 2014

TORONTO - Trying to avoid the parental backlash that erupted over its revised health and sex education curriculum in 2010, the Ontario Liberals have established an online consultation process on an updated sex-ed curriculum to be implemented in September. But already, it has run afoul of one parent group.

Parents As First Educators (PAFE) has objected to the limited scope of the survey, saying too few voices will be heard in the process. The survey is being sent to one parent council representative at each of the 4,000 elementary schools in Ontario, including some 1,400 Catholic schools,

Teresa Pierre, president of PAFE, said the sample size allows too few parents an opportunity to give feedback on the provincial government’s plans to modernize the curriculum.

“The current survey of a small group of parents, hand-picked by school principals, is an empty substitute for the public consultation everyone expected,” wrote Pierre in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

Re-elected last spring with a majority under Kathleen Wynne, the Liberals announced last month their intention to implement an updated curriculum. Four years ago, the government, then led by Dalton McGuinty, was criticized for failing to adequately consult with parent groups. McGuinty was forced to shelve the new curriculum amid storms of protests from religious and parent groups. They objected to the lack of consultation and to some of the tenets of the curriculum that would have seen concepts like oral sex, anal intercourse and masturbation introduced to students in Grade 6 and 7, sexuality identity and orientation discussions with students in Grade 3, and lessons on genatalia to students in Grade 1.

The online consultation process for parents will run until Nov. 28.

“PAFE believes the consultation should be open to all residents of Ontario and that it should be on the curriculum itself,” said Pierre.

The survey is divided into 12 sections and, for the most part, asks general questions, many of which are not directly related to parent attitudes towards health and sex education. None of the questions seek parent input on the precise content of the proposed curriculum by asking, for example, parent views on teaching elementary students explicit sexual material. The section on age appropriateness does not ask at what age children should be introduced to various components of the curriculum. So although parents may feel it is important that the curriculum be age appropriate, the survey does not seek their input on defining appropriateness.

Pierre suspects the government merely intends to reintroduce the same curriculum, or something similar, that parents objected to four years ago.

“Kathleen Wynne has had many occasions to see what people in Ontario think about her hidden sex-ed program,” Pierre said. “She could have raised it in the provincial election (in June). Likewise, she chose to release notice of a new sex-ed program just three days after the recent municipal elections... She chose to wait until it would not be an election issue.

Other Catholic groups, which have not seen the curriculum, are confident the curriculum will mesh with Catholic teaching.

“We’re confident that the expectations of the curriculum can and will be covered in Ontario’s Catholic schools in a manner adhering to Catholic principles,” said Michael Paulter, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE).

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board will continue to teach curriculum through a faith lens, said spokesperson Bruce Campbell, and “human development and sexual health is no exception.”

“For over 35 years, Catholic schools have been teaching a family life program which covers human development and sexual health,” said Campbell in an e-mail. “Under the guidance of the Catholic bishops of Ontario, the Fully Alive program was written to provide a distinct Catholic framework for family life education.” Campbell is confident the process will allow the Catholic community “the opportunity for input into the development process for the proposed new curriculum.” The Assembly of Catholic Bishops’ of Ontario is being tight lipped on the pending curriculum.

“I do not wish to comment on the questionnaire at this time,” said Bishop Gerard Bergie, chair of the bishops’ education committee. 

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