Sex-ed rollback, launch of snitch line, created ‘chill’ among teachers, court hears
The Toronto Star covers the first day of arguments in the #SexEd challenge
The Toronto Star reports on some of the arguments made in a challenge by the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) of the Ontario government’s repeal of the 2015 Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum in the province’s public schools.
“This case is … about the directive and the reporting site,” said ETFO lawyer Adriel Weaver in Divisional Court. She said there’s been a “chill” among teachers making them afraid to teach the 2015 curriculum, which ultimately deprives students of information, putting them at risk.
Here is the background to the case:
The 2015 curriculum included up to date and relevant information related to sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex relationships (including same-sex marriage, which did not exist in 1998, when the prior curriculum was written), consent, HIV, and online safety. It resulted from the most extensive consultation process in the history of the Ministry of Education, and included input from parents, students, teachers, faculties of education, universities, colleges and numerous stakeholder groups. More than 70 health-related organizations provided reports for consideration, and thousands of individuals provided feedback.
During the last provincial election, Doug Ford Ford vowed to repeal the 2015 curriculum, which by then had been successfully taught for three years. He accused the Liberal government of “introducing a sex-ed curriculum based on ideology” and claimed it had “turned schools into social laboratories and kids into test subjects.”
Upon its election, the Ford government, and its flip-flopping Minister of Education, set about repealing the 2015 curriculum and replacing it with the old 1998 curriculum. While styled as a 2010 document, in fact the previous curriculum’s sex education component derives from 1998. The government directed elementary teachers to follow the old curriculum. This directive had the effect of removing or substantially reducing from the HPE curriculum content related to sexual orientation, gender identity, same-sex relationships, HIV, consent, and online safety. Experts believe the repeal of the 2015 curriculum is dangerous for children.
To ensure that teachers complied with the directive, and did not cover any of the repealed content, the government established a website that included a link to the Ontario College of Teachers’ complaint page, so that parents could file complaints about non-compliant teachers. The website also linked to a form where parents could “express concerns about the curriculum currently being taught in [their] child’s classroom” – i.e. the government wanted to hear complaints about the 2015 curriculum (although they did not get the responses they wanted).
Further, Doug Ford threatened teachers who did not comply with the directive: “We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games. And, make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.”
ETFO maintains that the directive and the reporting line and the decisions to issue and implement them, both on their own and taken together, violate s. 2(b) (freedom of expression), 7 (right to liberty and security) and 15 (right to equality) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, ETFO maintains that the directive and the government’s impugned actions:
- prohibit teachers them from fulfilling their role as educators, and preventing them from communicating accurate information that is critical to student’s health, safety, development, and participation in a modern, diverse and pluralistic society;
- increase the risk of physical and sexual violence, transmission of sexually transmitted infections, cyberbullying, and online child exploitation committed against Ontario’s children in a manner that is arbitrary, overly broad and grossly disproportionate to any legitimate governmental objective; and
- perpetuates substantive discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, parents and members of society by excluding topics related to sexuality, gender identity and same-sex marriage from the approved school curriculum. This exclusion denies LGBTQ+ persons recognition, dignity and acceptance, and designates topics related to their realities and lived experiences as problematic, abnormal, inappropriate and worthy of exclusion from discussion. Further the removal of information related to HIV/AIDS further perpetuates stigma against persons, including pupils, who are HIV+ or are associated with persons, such as parents or siblings, who are HIV+.
Arguments before the Divisional Court continue today.