Tanya Granic Allen, president of Parents as First Educators (PAFE).

Catholics stay on course on sex-ed

  • August 29, 2019

Most of the elements of a 2015 sex-ed curriculum introduced by the then-governing Liberals in Ontario and repealed in 2018 by the incoming Progressive Conservative government will remain in a new Health and Physical Education curriculum announced by the province Aug. 21.

So with little change on the horizon, Catholic school boards are expecting the approach in its classrooms to the subject will be pretty much as they have been when school reconvenes Sept. 3. 

“The Fully Alive program, regardless of the changes announced, will continue to act as the guidelines for what students are going to be learning,” said Shazia Vlahos, chief of communications and government relations with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Catholic schools have always followed the curriculum set out by the Ministry of Education, and have done so since 1978 under the auspices of Fully Alive. It’s the family life curriculum for Catholic schools that ICE — the Institute for Catholic Education, with representatives from the Ontario bishops’ conference, Catholic principals, trustees, teachers and parents — has been charged with implementing in Catholic schools. It has been updated regularly.

“Fully Alive is already in our schools preparing students for what they need to learn related to health and physical education,” said Vlahos.

A key change in the new curriculum, however, will see school boards mandated to develop a “policy/procedure allowing parents to exempt their child from instruction of the human development and sexual health education component” of the curriculum, according to the revised document that has been posted on the Government of Ontario website (ontario.ca). Religious and conscientious exemptions were available under the old curriculum but were addressed case-by-case. Boards were not required to have a policy, but now must have one in place by the end of November.

Premier Doug Ford and the PCs campaigned on repealing the curriculum and did so in July 2018, announcing it would conduct a thorough review. 

Although the new curriculum looks much like the old one, there are changes. Some topics won’t be introduced until later ages (the old curriculum introduced gender identity to Grade 6 students, now it will be taught in Grade 8).

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and the PCs have been careful in framing the new curriculum as being much more than just sex ed. In a news release it stressed the mental health, concussions, effects of vaping and cannabis, cyber safety and healthy eating and body image aspects of the document before mentioning teaching students about “healthy relationships, including consent.” 

One of the most vociferous opponents of the old curriculum was just as unhappy with the new. Tanya Granic Allen of Parents As First Educators said the new version “is simply another version of the (then-Liberal premier Kathleen) Wynne sex-ed.”

“The Ford sex-ed curriculum will harm children just like the Wynne sex-ed: by excessively sexualizing them at young ages and by continuing to teach the unscientific gender identity theory with which many parents disagree,” said Granic Allen in a news release.

Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said OECTA will need time to review the specifics, but condemned the government for its “haphazard approach (that) has resulted in so much chaos and confusion…. The government has done everyone a great disservice by repealing the curriculum for a year, creating unnecessary uncertainty and then releasing this new version less than two weeks before the start of the school year.” 

On the other side of the coin, Charles McVety, president of the Toronto-based Institute for Canadian Values, called it “a great day for children of Ontario and parental authority.” He applauded the curriculum as one of “balance and compromise on a topic of sex education that is full of passion and diverse opinions.”

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