With the recent “fake news” epidemic, it can be hard not to get caught up in buzzwords and soundbites — especially when looking at provincial politics over the past few months. Phrases like “sex-ed” and “snitch line” have been thrown around from all sides of the political spectrum. With conflicting information, it’s difficult to navigate moving forward.
Since his election this past June, Premier Doug Ford has announced the repeal of the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum, colloquially known as the sex-ed curriculum. Instead, Ford promises to rewrite the curriculum to be "age appropriate" with the help of parents input. He also promises to go “back to basics” by removing the discovery math curriculum, a move he says will raise standardized test scores.
Educators are being told different answers from various sources; the government is telling teachers to follow the repeal, but the teacher's union is offering legal counsel for any teachers reprimanded for following the repealed curriculum.
George Gadanidis, Western University professor in the Faculty of Education, emphasizes the importance of focusing on the students and looking past the buzzwords. Gadanidis teaches university students the tools necessary to teach math to elementary students.
“For the benefit of students, we should avoid labelling things.… I don’t want to label [ideas] as Doug Ford or the Progressive Conservatives or the Liberals or whatever ideas. I just want to look at them as ideas,” Gadanidis states.
Kathy Hibbert, the director of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Research in Curriculum as a Social Practice and the associate dean of Teacher Education in the Faculty of Education, explains that this confusion stems from a lack of consensus among parents.
“The diversity we meet in our classroom is the same diversity — if he truly goes out and talks to multiple parents — [as] what he’s going to find [talking to parents],” she explains. “I’m not certain that he’s been hearing from a broad spectrum of parents, because if he had been, I’m not sure that he would have formulated an opinion around removing the curriculum.”
Since the initial press release, there has been a tidal wave of headlines and updates. Repealing the curriculum, a decision outlined in Ford’s election platform, has prompted a series of legal actions against the provincial government. From a legal injunction launched by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario to families of LGBTQ2+ youth filing human rights claims, there have been multiple public cases made since August.
ETFO president Sam Hammond explains the importance of challenging the repeal in a legal court.
“[The provincial government] is taking out any reference to same-sex marriage [and] LGBTQ issues. They’re taking out reference to gender identity [and] sexual orientation, and we think it is extremely important that we challenge that in a court,” he explains. “It’s unprecedented and it’s unnecessary in terms of attacks on kids and professional educators in Ontario.”
However, he also clarifies that the legal injunction is not to stop the provincial government from replacing the curriculum, which does fall within the scope of the government's power. Instead, the legal injunction aims to stop the repeal of the 2015 curriculum until the government finishes the new document, following continued consultation.
In the ongoing curriculum rewrite, the PC government plans to consult parents through an online survey and open telephone lines.
Kayla Iafelice, a spokesperson from Education Minister Lisa Thompson, states that the government is committed to giving parents a voice in their children's education.
“Our government for the people is currently undergoing unprecedented parental consultation when it comes to school curriculum — including [adding] financial literacy, improving math scores and developing an age-appropriate health and physical education curriculum — and we invite everyone to get involved,” says Iafelice in an email.
However, members of the ETFO believe that this will not be enough considering the amount of research and consultation that went into the 2015 curriculum.
“One of the things that we are very concerned about is that a new curriculum is not just based on input over the internet from a number of different sources,” Hammond says. “Like in every other instance that there is an actual curriculum writing team, including teachers [and] researchers, there’s fact-based evidence; there are health care organizations as well as government representatives.”
Hibbert echoes this sentiment, explaining that by repealing the document, the curriculum loses “the combined expertise of multiple groups of people, who have looked at not only the particular context of Ontario, but also [in the context of] what’s happening in other developed countries of the world with the goal of overall human wellness.”
In response to various school boards and the ETFO speaking out against this repeal, the PC government has opened an anonymous line for parents to report educators they suspect are following the 2015 curriculum or to discuss any general concerns they may have. Ford has promised to take action to reprimand teachers not following the repeal.
The legal injunction launched by the ETFO includes removing this “snitch line.” Educators are unsure how to proceed, considering the potentially invasive nature of the anonymous service.
Hammond states that the "snitch line" is used primarily for “intimidating teachers not to provide students with the information we have said is critical in 2018. It has severely damaged the relationship between our organization and the government and our teacher members and the province and the government.”
Hammond explains that there is already a service available to report teachers; unlike the "snitch line," however, they don’t accept any anonymous tips, since those cannot be verified.
“The only body in Ontario that can actually legally discipline teachers is the Ontario College of Teachers. And that body, for example, does not accept anonymous complaints as Doug Ford is suggesting with his line.”
Although there is no clear path moving forward, Hibbert explains that educators are responsible for their students.
“Educators are quite accustomed to working within difficult political times within education. It’s unfortunate because … I try to imagine what it would be like if we were spending our energy on doing really good things for students.”