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No tolerance for teachers using a repealed sex ed curriculum, warns Doug Ford

Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaking at MacDonald Block in Toronto on July 27, 2018. CITYNEWS

Teachers who use the repealed sex-education curriculum when students return to school next month will face consequences, Ontario Premier Doug Ford warned on Wednesday as he invited parents to anonymously report their concerns about education to his government using a website critics dubbed a “snitch line.”

Ford also announced broad consultations on education reforms to be launched in September, but said that until a new sex-ed document is drafted, teachers should use a “revised interim curriculum” his Progressive Conservative government has posted online.

“We will not tolerate anybody using our children as pawns for grandstanding and political games,” Ford said in a news release. “Make no mistake, if we find somebody failing to do their job, we will act.”

The warning drew the scorn of the province’s largest teachers’ unions, which have vowed to defend educators who continue to use the modernized version of the sex-ed curriculum updated under the previous Liberal government in 2015.

Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, slammed the move as an attack on educators and accused the government of “manufacturing a crisis” instead of addressing issues like school underfunding.

“Having a Ministry of Education ‘snitch line’ that bypasses the systems already in place to deal with issues at the school level will prohibit parents and educators from addressing classroom concerns constructively,” he said. “As we’ve seen from social media, anonymous portals and comment threads are toxic and counter-productive to improving any situation, in this case school culture.”

The Tory government’s plan to scrap the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was announced last month, fulfilling a Ford campaign promise. The lesson plan included warnings about online bullying and sexting, but opponents, especially social conservatives, objected to parts addressing same-sex relationships, gender identity and masturbation.

Ford said in the news release that a public interest committee would be set up through legislation to ensure “curriculum-based misconduct issues are fairly dealt with” by the Ontario College of Teachers.

The province has also set up a website where parents can report any teacher who is “jeopardizing their child’s education by deliberately ignoring Ontario’s curriculum,” a government news release said.

“Our government will be prepared to take regulatory and legislative action to ensure that the rights of parents are protected,” Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement. “Our end goal across all of these activities is simple: create an education system that respects parents while preparing our students for success.”

Ford said in a statement that the public consultations on education would include an online survey, telephone town halls across the province and a submission platform where the government would accept detailed proposals. It would also seek parental feedback on issues that include math scores, cell phone use, financial literacy and how best to prepare students with needed job skills.

The province said it will also create a “Parental Bill of Rights” to ensure parents are respected during and after the consultation process, but gave no details about what it would contain.

The public consultation will inform changes to the curriculum for the 2019-2020 school year, Thompson said.

Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the government’s handling of the issue is creating “additional anxiety” for teachers as they prepare for the school year.

“This is an absolutely unprecedented approach to policy or curriculum implementation within the education sector, where the release of a curriculum document is accompanied by an implicit or perhaps almost explicit threat of discipline if it’s not followed,” he said, adding the union will continue to advise members to exercise their professional judgment.

Bischof noted that teachers are not employed by the province but by school boards, and it’s the boards that have the power to discipline educators, along with the Ontario College of Teachers. It appears the government is trying to co-opt the college into its process, he said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Ford government’s “rigged consultation” process will hurt students, teachers and parents.

“Today’s announcement makes it clear that vital issues like consent, LGBTQ families, and gender identity are being almost completely eliminated from Ontario’s elementary sex ed curriculum to appease a vocal minority of radical social conservatives who helped secure the Conservative leadership for Doug Ford,” she said in a statement.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the consultations show the Tory government is putting ideology before student well-being.

“When children in Ontario start school in under two weeks, they’ll be learning a sexual-health curriculum from the last century,” he said. “I cannot believe that the premier and the minister of education want teachers to pretend the online world of social media and sexting doesn’t exist. I cannot believe they want teachers to be silent on gender diversity, putting the safety and mental health of our LGBTQ+ youth at risk.”