Should parents be allowed to exempt kids from portions of the sex-ed curriculum?

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Sabrina Almeida

It’s here just in time for the new academic year… the much-awaited Ford government’s revised sex-ed curriculum. But whether dissenting parents will find it palatable remains the question. It has many elements of Wynne’s program which sparked the uproar among conservative ethnic and religious communities, albeit it at a later age.

As per the new course, gender identity will be a mandatory topic in Grade 8 and not Grade 6 as decreed by the previous Liberal government. However sexual orientation will now be taught earlier in Grade 5 and not Grade 6. Masturbation remains an optional teacher prompt in Grade 6 and anal sex is first mentioned in Grade 7 like before. Online safety and consent will also be introduced in kindergarten and Grade 1, respectively. They were previously taught in Grade 6 and Grade 5. As in the 2015 curriculum, students will learn the proper names of body parts in Grade 1. It also has a new focus on mental health while adding topics like concussions, opioids and vaping.

Tanya Granic Allen, a vocal opponent of the scrapped syllabus, says Ford lied to and betrayed parents as Wynne’s radical sex-ed is there in entirety. If she is to be believed it means thousands of tax dollars have been wasted on consultations and to repackage the previous material with a few alterations. In fact, NDP education critic Marit Stiles pegs the wastage at $1million (for online consultations) in addition to a year lost playing politics with children’s wellbeing. She goes on to say that Ford’s “irresponsible vow” during the PC Party leadership contest was designed to get social conservative votes. Keeping in mind that controversial topics like gender identity, masturbation and anal intercourse have been retained, her statement does have a ring of truth to it.
Educators though must be relieved that much of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum which addresses the current environment has been left intact.

Perhaps parents needn’t lose sleep at all as they will have the option to exempt their kids from certain teaching blocks on human development and sexual health. As per a provision in the new curriculum families are to be given three weeks notice of when sex-ed lessons will be taught and up to five school days before the class to provide school boards with an exemption notice for their children.

For their part, school boards across the province will have to develop exemption procedures for certain sexual health topics as not all have such policies in place. The deadline for this is November.
However, Granic Allen feels the opt-out will be completely ineffective and that inappropriate material such as the gender identity theory (she counted out 40 references!!!) should have been eliminated altogether.

Ensuring that “parent’s have a say” in their children’s education through the Conservatives’ opt-out policy defies the purpose of any sex-ed program. Most objections to the modernized curriculum come from conservative groups where sex education is virtually non-existent and therefore a critical need. What will it take for parents to realize that the school is a safe place for such topics to be introduced and discussed as opposed to kids obtaining skewed information from their friends and the Internet? Or that not talking about it all doesn’t insulate them from it.

While online resources will be made available for parents to tackle these topics at home, it is unlikely that those seeking exemptions will do so at all or in an unbiased manner given that their objection is mainly cultural or religious. As a result, it will be left to kids to ‘discover’ answers for themselves and from unhealthy sources. Worse still, it could lead to a perpetuation of prejudiced thinking and homophobic behaviour among the next generation.

I for one would have preferred a more progressive approach that looks out for the kids and not their parents. After all it’s the children who will have to deal with the new realities and the parental pressure is what causes mental health issues like depression and suicide. Education cannot be wholesome or meaningful when there is the option to avoid topics you don’t like or are uncomfortable with. -CINEWS

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