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Ontario students walk out of class to protest sex-ed curriculum changes

Last Updated Sep 21, 2018 at 6:28 pm EDT

Students at more than a hundred schools across Ontario walked out of class on Friday to show the provincial government they disagree with its decision to repeal a modernized version of the sex-ed curriculum.

The walkouts — called “We the students do not consent” — are set to take place in schools from Niagara Falls to Ottawa. The protests also aim to voice opposition to the cancellation of curriculum writing sessions designed to fulfil findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“A lot of adults have been saying you don’t know what you’re talking about, about these issues, or you don’t have to get to have an opinion,” said Indygo Arscott, 16, a co-organizer of the protests. “But it’s going to affect us and it’s going to affect the children younger than us.”

The province’s Progressive Conservatives government announced in July that it would scrap the modernized sex-ed curriculum brought in by the previous Liberal regime in 2015. That document included warnings about online bullying and sexting, but opponents, especially social conservatives, objected to parts addressing same-sex relationships, gender identity and masturbation.

Late last month, the government released a curriculum meant to temporarily replace the modernized version. Observers have said it makes passing mention of modern concepts such as the internet and cellphones but largely reverts to the vague language and broad topic outlines used in the previous curriculum last updated in 1998.

Arscott, who is two-spirit and uses gender neutral pronouns, said they know firsthand what it feels like to learn from the older curriculum.

“There’s a lot of kids that are going to feel alienated,” Arscott said. “When I was growing up, it made me feel alienated that all I learned about was heterosexual relationships or identifying as either a male or a female.”

It was that same desire to feel represented in the classroom that led Arscott to found the group Decolonize Canadian Schools last year.

“It’s time that kids in especially the public school system get educated about Indigenous issues and Indigenous history, especially from the perspective of Indigenous people because nobody knows our history better than us,” Arscott said, pointing to the cancelled curriculum writing sessions as a step backward.

The sessions, which were set to take place in July, had been aimed at enhancing Indigenous perspective in the province’s school curriculum. The government also scrapped curriculum writing sessions on American Sign Language and Indigenous Languages in kindergarten set for the same time as a cost-cutting measure.

At the time, a spokesman for the ministry of education said the government would still work with “experts, elders and Indigenous communities” to develop “support materials” for the updated curriculum, but did not provide any specifics.

Ryan Bird, a spokesman for the Toronto District School Board, said Friday that while the student walkouts aren’t officially sanctioned, the board wants to make sure everyone who takes part is safe so staff will be onhand to supervise the protests.

“We encourage them to have their say,” he said, adding that in spite of the encouragement, students who leave class without permission from a parent will be marked absent.

The province is launching public consultations on a new sex-ed curriculum next week, and a spokeswoman for the education minister said she encouraged people to participate.

Students at Malvern Collegiate Institute and Notre Dame Collegiate held their walkout on Thursday due to PA days and other scheduling conflicts.