Locals join chorus of sex ed concerns

Sam Odrowski

Treaty #3 Grand Chief Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh issued a statement last Tuesday criticizing the Ontario government’s decision to revert back to the 1998 sex-ed curriculum.
In the statement, he calls on local MPP Greg Rickford to bring his concerns about the curriculum to the attention of the minister of education.
Grand Chief Kavanaugh said the province’s decision to scrap the 2015 sex-ed curriculum and replace it with a curriculum last revised in 1998 is a “step backwards.”
“When that curriculum was first developed, it was very silent on some key areas,” he told the Times.
“It didn’t cover such topics as consent, sexual orientation, [and] gender identity, and it was made before same-sex marriage was legal or equality of those peoples was fully recognized.
“So going back to the 1998 curriculum is also vilifying our two-spirited people,” he added.
Rickford said he spoke with Kavanaugh after the statement was made and plans to meet with him to address his concerns.
“One of the things I will be clarifying when we meet with him is that some of the information in that [statement] didn’t fairly reflect the reality,” he noted.
“In the frame of reference to the 1998 curriculum is not true, we were referring to a 2014 curriculum.”
While the reverted curriculum most recently was taught in 2014, it last was revised more than 20 years ago and teachers across Ontario disagree with Rickford, claiming it could put students at risk.
“It’s missing critical issues such as consent, online safety, and cyber-bullying,” said Monica Armour, Rainy River District president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), who has taught with the local school board for close to 30 years.
She is hoping these topics still will be addressed in sex-ed classes and expanded upon through other avenues.
Parts of Ontario’s language curriculum, such as the media literacy unit, can include topics of online safety and using the internet responsibly, Armour noted.
“So it will still be there in some forms. It just won’t be as wholesome as it could be,” she stressed.
Armour also fears aspects of sexual health left out of the classroom may not be taught to some students at all.
“Some of those conversations don’t happen at home and a lot of students don’t feel comfortable talking about it with their parents,” she said.
Donna Kroocmo, with the Rainy River District Women’s Shelter of Hope, echoed Armour’s sentiments.
“The parents are the last person that kids want to hear from about sex,” she remarked.
“As a child ages, parents lose credibility and teachers gain credibility, especially when they enter their teen years.”
Kroocmo fears important information about sexual violence and the dangers of internet pornography won’t be sufficiently taught to Ontario students.
She noted the average age that youth begin watching pornography is between 10-12, and discussions in the classroom about the messages pornography sends are important to have.
“They definitely don’t want to speak to their parents about it,” Kroocmo reiterated.
“So it’s great if they can go to school and have the teachers be open and honest about their body parts and what consent means, and dispel some of the stuff that they’re seeing on the pornography websites.”
Kroocmo also said that because the 1998 curriculum has no mention of same-sex relationships, many youths struggling with their sexuality could feel ostracized and develop depression among other mental illnesses.
Her nephew from Atikokan is homosexual and was the first person at Atikokan High School to come out as gay just five years ago.
He knew about his feelings from a very young age but was forced to wait until his late teens to share with everyone how he truly felt.
“He felt like he couldn’t tell anyone or talk to anyone, and that creates a real sense of isolation, confusion, and depression,” Kroocmo said.
“That’s a horrible feeling for anybody.
“My fear is that we are going to lose lives as a result of changing back to the old curriculum,” she warned.
The new Ontario government’s decision to scrap the 2015 curriculum stemmed from concerns around whether it was “age appropriate.”
As well, the government said there were issues around the consultation process that took place.
But Armour remains critical of that statement, noting that “very thorough consultations” already had taken place when the 2015 curriculum was being crafted.
The former government’s Ministry of Education said it surveyed roughly 4,000 parents for the 2015 curriculum, in addition to 2,400 educators and other stakeholders.
Armour is calling on the Rickford and Education minister Lisa Thompson to “sit down and actually read the curriculum.”
“Sit down and look through the information that was done already in the consultations, and other research that was done for the 2015 curriculum,” she stressed.
Armour hopes that in the near future, the government will make some clearer decisions as to what will be taught this fall.
“I’m hoping that we either revert back to the 2015 curriculum or we get some further clarification sent to the board and unions as to what the teachers should be teaching,” she remarked.
Ontario’s school boards have yet to receive direction on if teachers will be allowed to teach topics not included in the 1998 curriculum.
“Although boards must teach the government-mandated curriculum, I assure you that student safety, well-being, and healthy development, and safe and inclusive schools, remain priorities of the Rainy River District School Board,” chair Dianne McCormack said in a statement.
She noted the board currently is awaiting clearer direction from the Ministry of Education, including the “flexibility” that teachers . . . will have in teaching the curriculum.
“We will continue to monitor the actions and intentions of the new government,” McCormack added.
Rickford indicated his government will conduct thorough consultations and a new curriculum will be crafted shortly thereafter.
“We will be going back to the 2014 curriculum until we’re satisfied that the voices of parents and parent groups have been sufficiently heard,” he said.
“We’re going to take time to do the consultations that we need, and I don’t believe this will be a long and drawn out affair.”
The Ministry of Education issued a press release last Monday indicating that as of today, no decisions have been made regarding the scope of the new curriculum and that it will be based entirely on what they hear from Ontario parents.
The consultations are expected to start in the fall.