Opinion

Educators battle false information as sex-ed opposition grows

Ontario educators are scrambling to combat confusion and false information being spread by critics of the province’s new sex-ed curriculum.

Louise Brown GTA

Ontario educators are scrambling to combat confusion and false information among critics of the province’s new sex-education curriculum — including claims it offers how-to lessons on masturbation, homosexuality and anal sex.

The move comes as thousands of parents across the province plan to keep their kids home from school the week of May 4 to protest the new curriculum.

So many parents in Peel Region have expressed concerns over the curriculum, the school board fears hundreds of parents in their region alone — as many as 200 to 300 in some neighbourhoods — will ask that their children be exempt from sex-education classes next fall, warned Janet McDougald, chair of the Peel District School Board.

“A small fraction are intentionally misleading people (about the curriculum),” she said, “but the vast majority are confused and upset about what they’re reading and we need the (education) minister to work more aggressively at providing parents the answers they need to feel comfortable about it going forward.”

McDougald will ask trustees Tuesday to send an open letter to Queen’s Park asking for help to debunk the myths around the new lessons — like explaining that masturbation is not a topic that must be taught, but rather is a subject on which teachers have been given tips on how to respond if any student happens to bring it up.

“The ministry hasn’t distinguished between the actual subjects to be covered and ‘prompts’ it offers teachers to questions that may or may not come up,” said McDougald.

Some 5,000 parents, largely in the GTA, have joined a Facebook group calling for a boycott of classes May 4 to 10 to express opposition to the curriculum.

Peel mother Firani Siddiqui will keep her two younger children home to protest the curriculum she said breaches her right to decide when her children learn sensitive sexual information.

“I don’t want teachers to tell my children that masturbation is a healthy thing — it’s a no no; maybe I don’t want her to think it’s a healthy practice,” said Siddiqui, who said she is not anti-gay, but simply believes the new curriculum gets too explicit too early. “I don’t want a stranger telling my kids about oral and anal sex.”

Schools in Toronto’s largely Muslim neighbourhood of Thorncliffe Park also expect many parents to take part in the sex-ed boycott of school next week, and also try to opt out of the curriculum next fall, said Trustee Gerri Gershon. She is working with public health nurses to reach out to the community to combat misconceptions. The elementary school principal has sent a letter home encouraging students not to miss school.

In both areas, hysteria over the new curriculum even spilled over into recent Day of Pink anti-homophobia events. McDougald said some Peel schools were half-empty as parents kept their children home to protest what they saw as a promotion of homosexuality.

Schools need a strong, clear document from the province, she said, to counter flyers being circulated by some parent groups that can be more graphic than the curriculum itself, including one anoymous letter being passed around some Peel schools in Arabic warning that, under the new curriculum:

“In Grade 1 they will learn to reveal their private parts (not just name), they will see posters and flash cards of private parts, they will learn to touch the private area and identify it on themselves and others.” (Not true, said Nilani Logeswaran, spokesperson for Education Minister Liz Sandals.)

“Grade 6 is about the promotion of self-discovery through masturbation. Our 12-year-old daughter or son, who is not even a teenager yet, will be asked in class to explore his or her own body by touching their private parts, masturbating and pleasuring their body.” (Not true, said Logeswaran.)

The Peel school board letter also will ask Sandals to counter accusations that the new curriculum violates the Criminal Code of Canada by referring to anal sex, even though it is presented largely in the context of warning students that anal and oral sex can be high-risk activities that can spread sexually transmitted infections, noted Logeswaran.

While the Criminal Code used to forbid anal intercourse under the age of 18 — which some warned could apply to school discussions of anal sex — that section was declared unconstitutional in 1995, said Logeswaran.

Yet the letter circulating in Peel warns parents “Anal Play 101 class in Grade 8” would actually provide instruction on anal sex play. “In Making Sex Feel Good unit, they will be asked to look at sexy magazines and movies to investigate what arouses and seduces them,” the letter continues. Logeswaran said both claims don’t represent the curriculum.

McDougald also wants Queen’s Park to make it clear that while students have the right to opt out of lessons on sexuality if their parents feel it violates their beliefs — they can go instead to the library or another classroom — but they cannot be excused from lessons that talk about accepting different sexual lifestyles, because that is protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code.

“When it comes to discussions of human rights and equity (and different kinds of families, including same-sex parents) students who want to opt out would have to stay home,” said McDougald. “You can’t opt out of human rights.” THESTAR

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