Premier Doug Ford vowed to take action if teachers are found bucking the sex-ed curriculum rollback and has enlisted parents in the crackdown.
The province’s largest teachers’ unions had previously vowed to defend educators who persist in teaching the more modern curriculum instituted by the former Liberal government in 2015 after the Tories vowed earlier this summer to scrap it.
A government news release Wednesday said the province has set up a website where parents can report any teacher who is “jeopardizing their child’s education by deliberately ignoring Ontario’s curriculum.”
While broad consultations on education reforms will be launched in September, the government said, teachers should use a “revised interim curriculum” for the 2018-19 school year, which includes the 1998 version of the sex-ed curriculum, last used in 2014.
“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.”
Joel Westheimer, education professor and university research chair at the University of Ottawa, strongly denounced the government’s announcement and called on the Ontario College of Teachers and local school boards to push back.
“It’s one thing to say that ‘OK, we’re not going to use that curriculum,’ and it’s another breathtaking step to say that we’re going to actively participate in hunting down teachers who dare present students with any medically accurate facts that are not in that curriculum because a parent wants them to do that.,” Westheimer said.
The 2015 version of the curriculum included warnings about online bullying and sexting, but opponents, especially social conservatives, objected to parts addressing same-sex relationships, gender identity and masturbation.
“I would hope that boards — individual school boards like the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, or the Ottawa Catholic (School) Board, or any of the boards here in Ottawa — I hope they find their own backbone and refuse to abide by the witch hunt of teachers who are trying to provide medically accurate information to students.”
The province could then threaten to cut off funding to these school boards, Westheimer noted. “If I was a director I would say, ‘OK, we’ll just have to close the schools then,’ and see how Ottawa parents react to that.”
In a statement provided by spokesperson Sharlene Hunter, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board said it was still reviewing the information contained in the government’s announcement and will “share direction” on curriculum issues with their principals and teachers.
“We know that our teachers are committed to providing the best possible education for every student,” the statement read.
Matthieu Vachon, superintendent of education for Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario, the French-language public school board for Eastern Ontario, said the board “will attend the consultations on the invitation of the government, and speak in light of the values that are diversity, inclusiveness and wellbeing for student safety and the possibility for everyone to make their way towards building their own identity.”
In addition to a new health and physical education curriculum, “province-wide public consultations” set to kick off in September will ask “interested individuals and groups” to submit proposals regarding classroom cellphone bans, how to improve student performance in the STEM — science, technology engineering and mathematics — disciplines, and life skills teaching, among other subjects.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board and Ottawa’s French-language catholic school board could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
The province’s new website, Fortheparents.ca, brings users to a webpage where they can choose two click-through options — express concerns about the curriculum “currently being taught” in their child’s classroom, or submit feedback on another issue they want to address. The latter option takes users to the Ontario College of Teachers’ complaints process webpage.
According to the curriculum feedback page, the reports generated from the site will shared with the Ontario College of Teachers on a monthly basis.
Westheimer said he wouldn’t be surprised to see it flooded in the coming days with parents defending teachers’ right to share medically accurate sex-ed information with their children.
“I hope there will be enormous pushback … I would hope that Ontarians overall are smarter than this.”
Teachers’ unions have already decried the parental reporting platform.
Rémi Sabourin, president of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontarien, a teachers’ union based in Ottawa, compared it to “surveillance.”
“I think we’re pretty stunned by what we heard — especially regarding the snitch line and all that will go with that. Teachers … are professionals, they understand their responsibilities.”
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.
The OSSTF’s District 25 represents all unionized secondary school employees at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board.
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.