TORONTO — An overwhelming majority of those who weighed in on Ontario’s sex education on the first day of public consultations opposed Premier Doug Ford’s repeal of a modernized curriculum introduced by the previous Liberal government.
Respondents identifying themselves as students, parents and social workers flooded the ForTheParents.ca website with messages hours after it opened in late August, following weeks of controversy over the fate of the curriculum.
Roughly 1,600 submissions obtained by The Canadian Press through a freedom of information request show the vast majority called for the modernized 2015 curriculum to be reinstated. About two dozen messages spoke in favour of the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to repeal the document and temporarily replace it with one based on the 1998 curriculum.
“With the changes you have made to the curriculum you are putting children at risk. Not all parents are comfortable teaching their children the proper anatomical names and body safety but this is crucial,” wrote one person who said they were a parent and a child protection worker for the Children’s Aid Society.
Another person noted that their child attends an elementary school that has a trans student and worried about children not receiving lessons on acceptance.
“They will lack understanding and acceptance of all people regardless of sexual orientation. Please do not allow this to happen,” they wrote.
“Teach the new curriculum,” another submission read. “My tax dollars funded the research to come up with it and it’s not horribly out of date like the one from the 90s. Any teacher that teaches from the old curriculum is a liability towards the safety of our community.”
The government launched the submissions website in August after Ford pledged to revoke the modernized curriculum established under his predecessors and conduct what he called the largest consultations in the province’s history to create a new lesson plan.
Critics noted that the 1998 curriculum that temporarily replaced the scrapped document didn’t address themes like gender identity, consent and cyber-safety.
Just days before the start of the school year, the government said it had drafted a lesson plan to address those criticisms. Experts said, however, that the lesson plan contains only passing mention of modern concepts such as the internet and cellphones and largely reverts to the vague language and broad topic outlines used in the 1998 curriculum.
The 2015 curriculum touched on issues such as online bullying and sexting, but opponents, especially social conservatives, objected to parts addressing same-sex relationships, gender identity and masturbation.
Many of the respondents to the online consultation, whose identities have been withheld, questioned the expense and necessity of the submissions website after the previous Liberal government spent months consulting parents and experts to create their lesson plan.
Some singled out Ford, accusing him of promising changes to appease social conservatives within the party’s base.
“Please don’t turn back time,” one wrote. “Our kids deserve better — they need to learn consent, diversity, how to navigate social media. This is bullying the majority to satisfy a religious minority. It’s not OK to harm our kids for political gain.”
Dozens of respondents used the forum to mock the Ford government and the consultation process itself, which Ontario’s Elementary Teacher’s Federation had dubbed a “snitch line” that encouraged parents to report teachers who refused to teach the 1998 curriculum.
Those who supported repealing the 2015 curriculum expressed concerns that children were being taught things they considered inappropriate, such as gender diversity and same-sex relationships.
“Sexual preferences should not be taught in school,” said a respondent. “Every family has its own values. LGBTQ is trendy right now, and many teens buy into it because it gives isolated teens an instant group of friends. It is not acceptable to voice your opinion to the contrary. We can deal with it because we are adults. But please don’t indoctrinate kids.”
When asked about the results of the consultations, which ended Saturday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson said the government will be looking at all of the data in January, then writing and testing a new curriculum throughout the spring. The new document will be introduced in time for the new school year for the fall, she said.
“We’re going to be listening and looking at every single submission that has come in,” Thompson said. “When we look through the tens of thousands of submissions, digital surveys and the results of our telephone town halls, you’re going to see we’re going to be putting the right foot forward for our elementary curriculum next year.”
Interim Liberal leader John Fraser said he felt vindicated by the first batch of results, noting that extensive consultations were conducted when his party brought in the modernized curriculum.
“It seems to be a really incredible waste of time and probably money for the government to do this,” he said.
If the initial submissions are indicative of the remaining responses, the Progressive Conservatives can no longer justify their decision to temporarily revert to an older version of the lesson plan, he said.
Ford’s opposition to the updated sex-ed curriculum first came to light during the Progressive Conservative leadership race earlier this year. His stance won him the support of social conservatives within the party base, helping him to victory over longtime legislator and current health minister Christine Elliott.
— with files from Lucas Timmons.
Shawn Jeffords and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press