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School trustees pressed to keep sex-ed curriculum

The Record with Lyndsey Butcher 20 August 2018

A local organization is calling on the public school board to disregard Premier Doug Ford and continue teaching the same sex-ed classes.

The message was to be delivered to public school trustees Monday, at a special meeting called by the Waterloo Region District School Board to hear public input and consider initiatives by the Progressive Conservative government.

“We’re calling on the school board to put safety first and not go back 20 years,” said Lyndsey Butcher, executive director of the Shore Centre, a family planning agency that planned to address trustees.

The province has directed schools to revert to the former health and physical education curriculum written in 1998 and taught until 2014, while the government consults with parents on what is appropriate for children.

Ford has criticized teachings introduced by the Liberals in 2015 as driven by ideology. Teacher unions, some school boards and government critics are fighting back, arguing the earlier teachings are silent on social media, consent, gender and LGBT issues.

“The 1998 curriculum is missing critical information that students need in order to make healthy and informed decisions, and to feel validated in their identity,” Butcher said.

Trustees called the meeting to hear updates from board staff and to debate if or how the board should respond. Six public delegations registered ahead of the evening meeting.

Issues on the agenda included sex education, Indigenous teachings, and more than $1 million in green energy funding lost to the public board when the province cancelled an environmental program for the trade of carbon emissions.

“I think it would be harmful to go backwards 17 years in curriculum, in any subject,” said trustee Scott McMillan, departing school board chair.

He said the Education Ministry has yet to provide formal direction on sex education teachings, two weeks before classes resume.

McMillan said affirming safe spaces and validating “the lived experience of every one of our students” can be achieved outside of sex education classes even while the board follows ministry direction.

“It’s a long school day and we’ve got pretty skilled educators,” he said.

Lost funding for energy-saving renovations “hurts, no question” McMillan said, but it’s a small amount in the board’s budget.

“It’s not like the sky is falling in,” he said. “But it is a smart investment to put into energy savings that will continue to pay off.”

Local union president Trevor Ray planned to attend on behalf of high school teachers who oppose revisions to sex education.

“Taking away information from students is just a horrible idea,” he said.

“Protecting yourself online and consent are things that have absolutely nothing to do with sex, but do protect our kids,” said Ray, of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. “To remove that from the curriculum I think is a crime.”