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Whatever Happened to Ontario’s Sex Ed Curriculum? The Complete Timeline

January 4th, 2022     by Hannah Maitland     Comments

Illustration by Mallory CK Taylor

Sex education can be controversial. In many parts of the world, long battles have been fought over the who, what, when, where, why, and how of teaching young people about sexuality. In Ontario, the fight over sex education has been so long and complicated that it has its own Wikipedia page. So after a decade of ongoing controversy, what is the full story of sex education in Ontario? What kind of curriculum do we have now? And more importantly, how exactly have the affected students made their voices heard along the way? Keep reading for a full timeline of curriculums, consultations, and student action.

A New Decade

April 2010
Under the leadership of Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Liberal government of Ontario announces a new updated sex ed curriculum, finally—the curriculum is already 12 years old and was written before gay marriage was legally recognized in Ontario. But after only a few days, the new curriculum is cancelled due to intense backlash.

February 11, 2013
Kathleen Wynne takes over leadership of the Liberal Party and becomes the 25th premier of Ontario. She is the first female premier of Ontario and first openly gay premier in Canada. Many people are excited to see Wynne as premier and hope that her government will enact more progressive policies for the province.

October 30, 2014
The provincial government announces it will begin consultations with parents and educators to develop a new sex ed curriculum for Ontario.

2014
After producing the film, Allegedly: Rape Culture in our Society, for a class project, Grade 8 students Lia Valente and Tessa Hill create a petition to add consent to the sex education curriculum for Ontario on change.org. The petition gains more than 40,000 signatures and leads to a meeting with Premier Wynne where Lia and Tessa’s request to include consent in the curriculum is successful.

Tessa Hill and Lia Valente walk with Premier Kathleen Wynne. Photo from https://www.purposefulbook.com/tessa-hill-lia-valente

The New Curriculum

February 23, 2015
The government announces new sex education content for the Health and Physical Education curriculum for Ontario primary and secondary schools. The update includes discussions of 2S-LGBTQ+ identities, masturbation, correct terminology for genitalia, and some Indigenous perspectives on health and development.

April 14, 2015
Thousands of parents and their children protest the curriculum at Queens Park. Some even call Kathleen Wynne a “radical gay activist” and accuse her of adding 2S-LGBTQ+ content for personal benefit, not for the good of Ontario students. Much like in 2010, many people believe that the new sex ed content is inappropriate for children or claim it goes against their religious beliefs.

The End?

Despite months of protest and some parents’ withdrawal of their children from school, the 2015 curriculum survives the backlash and is introduced in September of 2015. However, opponents of the curriculum continue to voice their disagreement with the sex education content. In 2016, the Stop the New Sex-Ed Agenda political party is formed with the goal of encouraging others to oppose the curriculum. It never wins any seats, but opposition to the curriculum will become a major issue in the 2018 provincial election.

A New Government

March 10, 2018
Doug Ford wins leadership of the Conservative Party. He promises to scrap the new sex ed curriculum if he wins the upcoming election.

Illustration by Mallory CK Taylor

June 7, 2018
The Conservative Party wins the provincial election and forms a majority government. Doug Ford becomes the 26th premier of Ontario and promises to “take back Ontario.” Many people think he sounds a lot like Donald Trump, seeing a parallel between Ford’s “take back Ontario” and Trump’s 2016 election slogan “Make America Great Again,” and fear that he’ll enact the same kinds of socially conservative policies.

July 9, 2018
The government cancels a series of Truth and Reconciliation writing sessions with Indigenous Elders and educators who were going to revise the Ontario Indigenous curriculum. Cancelling the writing sessions is one of the new government’s very first actions and many worry that more cuts to education—including sex education—and Indigenous-centred programs are coming.

July 11, 2018
As promised, the government announces that it is withdrawing the 2015 sex ed curriculum from schools. Though an interim curriculum would be released by the end of August, when the curriculum is first repealed there is no replacement curriculum and no clear instructions for teachers on what exactly the withdrawal would mean for their own lesson planning.

The Reactions

July 11, 2018
Immediately after the repeal is announced, Grade 12 students Rayne Fisher-Quann and Frank Hong found March for Our Education, a group devoted to uplifting student voices in response to the government’s abrupt cuts to education curricula, and quickly get to work organizing protests and events.

July 21, 2018
March for Our Education holds its first student rally to protest the cancellation of both the sex ed curriculum and the updates to the Indigenous curriculum.

August 21, 2018
Even after facing pushback for cancelling the updated curriculum, the government remains committed to its plans for education in Ontario and announces the launch of a site to report teachers who continue teaching the 2015 sex ed content. This “snitch-line” is very unpopular, but it goes ahead despite major criticisms.

August 22, 2018
An interim curriculum is released. This curriculum removes the updated 2015 content from the Health and Physical Education curriculum. Instead, the interim curriculum is made up of mostly the old 1998 curriculum and a few of the updates from the cancelled 2010 update. The 1998 curriculum is older than smartphones, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada, and any Ontario primary and secondary school students. With the interim curriculum comes the removal of references to proper names for genitalia, references to consent, and several references to Indigenous teachings.

August, 2018
Six families file complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario claiming that the interim curriculum’s lack of 2S-LGBTQ+ content is discriminatory. Two transgender high school students named Ryan and Noah also file human rights claims against the province. They argue that the interim curriculum discriminates against 2S-LGBTQ+ students and that the repeal made them both feel personally unsafe at school.

August 22, 2018
The government also announces that it will begin wide consultations with Ontario citizens about sex education and other aspects of provincial education like standardized testing and improving student performance in STEM subjects.

Late August, 2018
Indygo Arscott, a Two-Spirit Ojibwe student and founder of the group Decolonize Canadian Schools, plans a student walkout to protest the cancelled curriculums. They create the hashtag #WeTheStudentsDoNotConsent and collaborate with Fisher-Quann to plan a province-wide student walkout.

September 21, 2018
Nearly 40,000 students across the province walk out of their classrooms to demand better sex education and Indigenous curricula. The government doesn’t seem swayed, but many Ontarians express solidarity with the student walkouts and share in their demands for modern and inclusive sex ed.

Illustration by Mallory CK Taylor

October 2018
The Elementary Teachers of Ontario, Ontario Human Rights Commission, AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Justice for Children and Youth Legal Clinic bring a joint lawsuit against the repeal of the sex ed curriculum. The Grand Council of Treaty 3, which is made up of 28 First Nation Communities, also joins this legal challenge and want to make sure an Indigenous perspective is heard. The Grand Council argues that Indigenous youth are already a vulnerable group, and the province was only making this worse by failing to provide modern and inclusive sex education.

December 18, 2018
The government consultations with Ontario citizens show that the majority of Ontarians support the 2015 sex ed curriculum. Doug Ford suggests these results were skewed by “certain groups.” He doesn’t explain what he means by this.

December 19, 2018
Members of the United Nations Human Rights Council issue an official notice demanding Canada explain and account for the decision to return to the 1998 curriculum and immediately ensure all individuals have access to non-discriminatory information about sexual and reproductive health.

February 28, 2019
The Divisional Court dismisses the joint suit against the repeal, reasoning that the interim curriculum did not prevent teachers from discussing consent, internet safety, or 2S-LGBTQ+ topics on their own, so it was not discriminatory.

March 15, 2019
The government unveils a new spending plan called “Education that Works for You.” This plan involves budget cuts for school programs and increased class sizes for Ontario schools. Despite the proposed cuts, the new budget also includes plans for finishing the updates to the Indigenous curriculum and a new official sex ed curriculum.

April 4, 2019
Over 100,000 students participate in a province-wide walkout to protest proposed cuts to education spending and increased class sizes. The planning began with Grade 12 students Natalie Moore and Amina Vance who organized over social media with the hashtag #StudentsSayNo. In the Ontario Legislature, Doug Ford and other politicians say that the walkouts should have been stopped and argue that students were being used as pawns in the teachers’ labour dispute. However, students argue that they are just as impacted by the new spending plan as their educators and can advocate for themselves politically.

Photo from The Toronto Star: https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/09/18/we-want-to-have-our-voices-heard-says-teen-behind-province-wide-student-sex-ed-protest.html

April 6, 2019
Around 10,000 teachers, parents, and students gather to protest the government’s new spending plan at Queens Park. The rally was organized by members of various Ontario teachers’ unions and though the protests receive wide public support, the government doesn’t revise its spending plan. This protest is only one event in a longer labour dispute between education workers and the Ontario government. Issues like class sizes, hiring freezes, and government spending continue into early 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic soon becomes the biggest issue for education.

The New New Curriculum

August 21, 2019
An official new curriculum is released. Much of the controversial content from 2015, like gender identity, 2S-LGBTQ+ identities, and proper names for genitalia is back, just moved to more senior grades. Even though the 2019 curriculum looks like a slightly modified 2015 curriculum, there are actually a few new additions like lessons on cannabis use and concussions. Consent, a topic that many students have fought long and hard to have included in sex education, is now discussed in Grade 3 instead of Grade 6.

Today, the 2019 curriculum is still officially in use, but the pandemic has brought different educational issues to the headlines. Even as the pandemic seems to be ending, the education system in Ontario still has a lot to deal with and after over a year of online and hybrid learning, it’s unclear what kinds of sex ed students have encountered. After such uncertain times, it’s hard to predict what sex ed will look like in the future. But no matter what happens next, whether sex ed is in-person, virtual, or something else entirely, students will continue to advocate for their own education and fight for the right to access inclusive and accurate information about sexual health.

Tags: activist report, doug ford, education, indigenous knowledge, kathleen wynne, ontario education, queer activism, queer youth, school, sex education, sexual health, student activism, students

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