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EXCLUSIVE: Teachers say they are shut out of sex-ed consultations

It was launched with big fanfare – a comprehensive review of Ontario’s education curriculum.

According to an August media release, it was to focus on improving math scores, preparing students for future jobs, improve standardized testing and “build a new age-appropriate Health and Physical Education curriculum that includes subjects like mental health, sex-ed and legalization of cannabis.”

The consultations – which began in September and will end in mid-December – involve telephone town halls and online submissions, but no formal meetings with teachers, educators or the unions that represent them.

“It’s unclear to me that there was a real purpose to these consultations,” Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) told CityNews. “I don’t object to consultations, and I wish they would be consulting us more frequently because the ministry has largely closed its door to our input over the last few months, which is highly problematic when they’re not hearing the voice of front-line workers.”

Although any member of the public can make a submission or listen in on a telephone town hall, Ontario’s two largest teacher unions say there has been little effort to consult with their members – namely teachers and educators.

“No educators or unions were asked to participate or were notified. The government to-date has not even met with us,” Denise Hammond, a spokesperson for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario told CityNews in a statement.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath says she’s surprised the government wouldn’t actively be seeking teachers’ input.

“Those are the folks who know what the day to day looks like, who know what kinds of issues young people and children are raising in the classroom,” Horwath said. “And definitely representatives of those workers, their unions, should absolutely be a part of the consultations and I’m shocked, frankly shocked that the government has decided not to do that.”

But Education Minister Lisa Thompson says teachers can participate – and have been. “We have teachers. We have parents. We have trustees. We have people participating from across Ontario representing every aspect of education, so I feel very confident that voices are going to be heard loud and clear,” Thompson told CityNews.

But repeated requests for participation rates and projected costs of the consultation have been rebuffed from Thompson’s office.

“We are concluding our consultation on December 15 and then we will be providing a review of everything that has come out in it and trust that we will be making a nice announcement because we have had tremendous response,” Thompson said.

The legislature’s last schedule sitting date for 2018 is December 13. A review could take several weeks or months to complete.

Documents obtained by CityNews through a Freedom of Information request show that much of the answers the PC government is seeking through this consultation were already obtained by the previous government, over the course of several years.

According to a June 2018 briefing note prepared for the new Education Minister, the Health and Physical Education curriculum that was partially scrapped by this government was reviewed over several years – including extensive consultations with students, parents, educators and stakeholders. Parents were not only part of the curriculum consultation, but were actively engaged in its execution.

CityNews has learned that significant materials were prepared for parents to keep them engaged and informed about the sex ed changes – with an outline of the revised Health and Physical Education curriculum, guides on the human development and sexual health component curriculum for all grades and reference sheets on topics such as consent, online safety, the risks of sexting, and mental health.

The government had also translated these resources in eleven different languages, including Arabic, Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional, Farsi, and Somali.

Thompson couldn’t explain why the ministry hadn’t reached out to the unions that represent over 150,000 teachers and educators, saying only that they were treating all those with an opinion equally.

“I’m not sure that (the consultations) had more than a political purpose in this case,” says Bischof. “But, by all means consult front-line workers who know what its like to be in a classroom, to be in a school”.