The Ministry of Education of Ontario was dragged to court this week by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) the Canadian Civil Liberties Union (CCLA) for their claim the new/old sex-ed – let’s call it the 2018 version- violates their constitutional rights.
I thought it would be a good idea to dig a little deeper and actually read the government’s factum on this case. A legal factum is essentially a statement of the facts of the case, at least from the perspective of one side or the other.
So, what are the “facts”? Of most significance, it seems that nothing has actually been repealed of the Wynne sex-ed.
Nothing? Let me explain. Absolutely nothing has been repealed for the high school sex-ed; the Catholic schools repealed nothing from their curriculum, so really the only curriculum under discussion here is the public elementary school curriculum. That’s it.
As for the K to 8 curriculum, it turns out that Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s interim 2018 Curriculum – the one currently in use – has only shuffled around a few things, but that none of the content of Wynne’s 2015 curriculum is off limits to Ontario teachers. None of it.
Remember when I made a fuss over the very first words we heard from Minister of Education Lisa Thompson in the Legislature on July 16, 2018? When she said children need to learn about gender identity?
Well the governments lawyers presented her exact words as evidence that the government isn’t excluding gender identity – or anything else - from being taught. Here’s what the factum said:
… where the 2018 HPE Curriculum was issued by the Minister pursuant to her statutory power, it is the words of the Minister herself that can provide the most relevant context:
We know they need to learn about consent. We know they need to learn about cyber safety. We know they need to learn about gender identity and appreciation.- Lisa Thompson, Min. of Ed. [Minister of Education Factum, paragraph 257, page 92-93]
In the factum, Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) of Education, Martyn Beckett, is referred to as suggesting the following:
The 2018 HPE Curriculum, the learning expectation is articulated at a level that continues to provide “plenty of opportunity for teachers to teach the [gender identity] concept in their classroom.” (ADM Beckett Cross-Examination, lines 14-15, page 115)
This is as I have been saying for months. Now we have Minister Thompson’s top bureaucrat on the sex-ed issue confirming, in writing, what we have known all along.
The fact that the words “gender identity” do not specifically appear in the 2018 learning expectations does not mean that teachers may not teach about this topic. ADM Beckett was clear on cross-examination that “yes, [students] can learn about gender identity.” (Minister of Education Factum, paragraph 89, page 31)
So what has changed? What, if anything, of the Wynne sex-ed, does Thompson’s “new” interim curriculum, prohibit? The answer is…NOTHING:
“Teachers are free to answer questions and address topics that are not expressly referred to in the curriculum document in the course of teaching the curriculum.”
“Whether and how a teacher responds to any student question is quintessentially a matter of professional judgment.…[T]he exchange can, and often should, be, “open, honest, and up to date” with full consideration given to a student’s wellbeing.…[D]eciding how and when to respond to student questions is a matter of judgment which lies closer to the centre of teachers’ professional and ethical obligations than the more everyday activity of designing and delivering lesson plans based on the official curriculum.” (Minister of Education Factum, paragraph 24, page 8-9)
So, can teachers still use the material in Wynne’s 2015 curriculum? And other controversial sources. The answer, according to Thompson’s ADM, is YES:
Teachers can draw from a wide range of available resources and strategies, including sample lesson plans, activities, webpages, books, videos, posters, surveys, and other tools prepared by organizations, teacher associations, and school boards. Ontario does not require teachers to use any particular teaching resources or strategies. As stated by ADM Beckett, “Teachers as professionals can use any particular document they wish as a resource…That is part of their opportunity to exercise their professional judgment.” (Minister of Education Factum, paragraph 27, page 10)
Also, the government’s factum revealed that Minister Thompson and her team is well aware of a teaching resource prepared by Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (Ophea). ADM Beckett pointed out that Ophea did in fact link a lesson about gender identity and sexual orientation to a 2018 Grade 3 expectation.
For example, in Grade 2 students are expected to learn to “distinguish the similarities and differences between themselves and others.” This learning expectation provides two non-mandatory examples of similarities and differences (e.g., in terms of body size or gender), but does not limit others that may be taught. Other inclusive examples could include similarities and differences in terms of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. (Minister of Education Factum, paragraph 29, page 11)
Also, it is confirmed by ADM Beckett that students are taught and tested about gender identity in Grade 9.
The government’s lawyers also argued that “nothing in the 2018 HPE Curriculum would “prevent teachers from expressing opinions” either inside or outside the classroom.”
Are your children homeschooled, or are enrolled in a private school Better pay attention…
Dr. Lauren Bialystok, who is an Ass. Prof at OISE, U of T in Social Justice Education, and who presented as an expert witness for the ETFO believes that the 2015 HPE Curriculum should be compulsory for all students, including students who are privately schooled or home-schooled.
Furthermore, remember that snitch line for parents to report teachers- ForTheParents.ca? In the factum it was revealed that the College of Teachers does not investigate anonymous complaints. So if you complained about something being taught in the classroom anonymously, then your complaint went nowhere. Apparently in the first month, only 13 complaints were made with contact information, and of those 13, none were actually ever forwarded to the College. So much for that. The small number of complaints, however, is not surprising given that the sex-ed component of the HPE curriculum is usually taught in May or June of the school year.
It appears PAFE was correct in sounding the alarm; by the government’s own admission, nothing has changed.
To read the government's factum for yourself, as well as other legal documents pertaining to this case, please click here.