The Ontario government’s revised sex-education curriculum for elementary schools includes instruction on health, cyber safety and consent, and requires school boards to allow parents to exempt children from teachings on human development and sexual health.
The new curriculum, released Wednesday, will replace a controversial teaching plan brought in after the Progressive Conservatives took power last year. It incorporates many elements of a 2015 curriculum that the PCs, while in Opposition, described as “ideological” and later scrapped when they formed government.
The Ministry of Education says the updated Elementary Health and Physical Education Curriculum will include instruction on mental health, body image and nutrition and online safety. The new curriculum also includes learning on issues around cannabis use for students in Grades 5 through 8, and new lessons on concussions in Grades 1 through 8.
School boards across the province will also need to develop a “procedure allowing parents to exempt their child from instruction of the human development and sexual health education component” of the curriculum, the government said in documents posted online.
“Currently, not all school boards across Ontario have policies in place to address the exemption of children from sexual health education,” the government noted, adding that policies are to be in place by November. Online resources will also be made available for parents who wish to tackle those topics at home.
Religious and conscientious exemptions were available under the previous Liberal government, though those instances were addressed on a case-by-case basis and school boards were not required to have a codified policy in place.
Last year, Premier Doug Ford’s government repealed a modernized curriculum introduced by the Ontario Liberals that included lessons on sexting, same-sex relationships and gender identity. Instead, educators were instructed to teach students material that borrowed heavily from a 1998 curriculum while the government completed consultations with parents and other stakeholders.
The new document will return to teaching many of the controversial topics covered in the 2015 curriculum, but in some cases will do so when students are older. For example, concepts of gender identity — previously introduced to students in Grade 6 — will now be taught in Grade 8.
The government’s repeal of the former curriculum sparked considerable controversy and launched a charter challenge from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The groups argued changes made by the government infringed on teachers’ freedom of expression and put students at risk by failing to be inclusive.
A divisional court dismissed the challenge in February.
The PC’s decision to mandate exemption policies for controversial subjects drew mixed reaction from social conservatives. Tanya Granic Allen, a former PC leadership candidate and one-time Ford ally, said the provision to opt-out of certain lessons “will be completely ineffective.”
Instead, Granic Allen said in a statement, “inappropriate material such as gender identity theory” should have been eliminated altogether from the new curriculum.