Ontario students to learn gender identity, LGBTQ issues in Grade 8

Ontario rolls out a new health and physical education curriculum just two weeks before school starts. How different is Ford's new update from Kathleen Wynne's 2015 curriculum? Cynthia Mulligan finds out.

By News Staff

The Ontario government has released their new sexual education curriculum for elementary students, which will go into effect at the start of the school year.

The 2019 Health and Physical Education curriculum deals with bullying, mental health, concussions, gender identity, same-sex relationships and age-appropriate sexual health education.

In a one-on-one interview with CityNews, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said he believes this new curriculum is a dramatic improvement and has strengthened “every single area” of the previous plan.

“It’s about safety. It’s about keeping kids safe in and outside the classroom. Giving them the tools to remain safe and giving them the self confidence to identify when victimization takes place,” he explained.

One of the improvements the Ford government is touting is the inclusion of vaping and cannabis education in the new curriculum, as well as increased onus on mental health.

“We’re adding elements of mental health for the first time in kindergarten, with the recognition that young kids, at that age, increasing they are facing signs of depression – because of bullying and other manifestations in their lives,” Lecce explained.

“We introduced vaping, which did not exist in the 2015 curriculum because more people are turning to vaping in terms of smoking. We introduced new elements on cannabis because in the 2015 version legalization under the federal Liberals didn’t exist.”

The government has broken down the details on what students will learn about human development and sexual health from Grades 1 to 8, and why certain topics are being taught at certain age levels.

Starting in Grade 1, children will learn to identify body parts, including genitalia, by their proper names, using positive language when describing their bodies and basic hygiene such as hand washing.

In Grade 2, students will learn the basic stages of human development and good oral hygiene habits such as brushing your teeth and flossing.

In Grade 3, the topic of bullying is discussed and how to handle peer pressure along with building a healthy body image. Students will also learn about healthy relationships and the characteristics that make each one of us unique as well as respecting each others differences.

In Grade 4, students will learn about puberty and the emotional and social impact these changes have on development.

In Grade 5, the curriculum builds on the lessons of puberty to include sexual orientation, the reproductive system, menstruation and sperm production and the emotional stresses related to puberty.

In Grade 6, students will be taught the impacts of sexually explicit media such as pornography along with showing respect for themselves and others by recognizing the importance of consent. As well as how stereotypes can affect how someone feels about themselves and how to challenge those assumptions, homophobia and racism.

The Grade 7 student will learn about sexual activity within a health relationship including sexually transmitted and blood borne infections and how to prevent them. While discussions will centre around delaying first intercourse and other sexual activities, the government’s document points out that research shows teaching about sexual health and human development does not increase sexual behaviour.

When it comes to the topic of gender identity and LGBTQ issues, the new curriculum won’t have children learning that until Grade 8 — along with abstinence, contraception and consent. Gender identity was previously taught in Grade 6.

Read the complete breakdown here.

Lecce said he believes the new curriculum is inclusive and respects parents’ wishes while still validating the childrens’ needs.

“We want young people in this province to know, irrespective of their faith, of their heritage, of their orientation, their economic status or their place of birth, that they are valued and they are respected. They should feel safe in the classroom. That’s the message I want every child in Ontario to know.”

One of the most vocal opponents to the curriculum, Tanya Granic Allen, tweeted Wednesday that Ford’s new curriculum is a betrayal.

“The radical Wynne sex-ed is still there – ALL OF IT. And gender identity is mentioned 40 times,” she wrote. “Ford LIED to the parents.”

Charles McVety, the president of Canada Christian College and another prominent Conservative voice who opposed the previous Liberal sex-ed curriculum, called it a “great day” for the children of Ontario and parental authority.

“I applaud the Minister of Education Stephen Lecce and Premier Doug Ford for achieving a Health and Physical Education Curriculum that reflects balance and compromise on a topic of sex education that is full of passion and diverse opinions,” wrote McVety in a Facebook post.

“The real winners are the millions of children who will not be confronted with complex gender fluidity until the second half of grade 8. Little children grades 1 to 7 will not be taught multiple genders that can be chosen at will. Parents are also winners at they are being recognized as the authority in their children’s education with the ability to opt out of the sex ed teaching.”

The province also requires school boards to develop a procedure that allows parents to exempt their child from “instruction of the human development and sexual health education component of the elementary Health and Physical Education curriculum.” This must be in place by Nov. 30.

Allen called this provision in the curriculum another “typical Doug Ford bait & switch.”

“Min. of Ed. lawyers argued last winter that teachers can teach ANYTHING at ANY GRADE, at ANY TIME. No ‘opt-out’ in such cases. Opt-out is another Doug Ford LIE,” she tweeted.

Moreover, parents have to option to obtain resources to teach any aspect of sex-ed to their children at home, at any age they choose. The government said this will be available in the 2019-2020 school year and more information will be provided at a later date.

It will cost the province $2.25 million to implement the revised elementary Health and Physical Education curriculum, and the addendum to the Kindergarten Program along with other curricula.

The Wynne government’s sex-ed curriculum sparked controversy, particularly among social conservatives, when it was introduced in 2015. The Ford government vowed to scrap the program and start again, giving parents more input in what their children were being taught.

The Wynne update was the first time the curriculum had been updated since 1998, and it included warnings about online bullying and sexting that were not in the previous version.

But protesters had zeroed in on discussions of same-sex marriage, gender identity and masturbation.

To read the complete Health and Physical Education curriculum for Grades 1 to 8, click here.

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