Toronto Star: Peel board’s sex-ed guide gets help from faith, community groups

By:  Education Reporter, Published on Tue Nov 03 2015

It was created to counter the misinformation about sex-ed, and has the blessing of local faith and community groups.

In a bid to present the facts on the controversial curriculum — the curriculum that prompted thousands of parents across the province to keep their children home from school on days of protest, as well as inflammatory pamphlets distributed saying children would be taught to reveal and touch their private parts — the Peel District School Board is launching its own 14-page “Facts Matter” guide for parents.

“When we were dealing with the initial rollout of the curriculum and we began to see such a flood of information in the community that was just so untrue, it was frustrating for the board . . . we talked it through and one of the ideas that came forward was to do a guide that is a factual walk-through for parents,” said Brian Woodland, the board’s director of communications and community relations.

“This isn’t the controversy — it’s the curriculum.”

The guide, available in 11 languages, is introduced with four pages of endorsements from a diverse group including local temples, Peel’s medical officer of health, a Tamil community medical clinic, the Hindu Federation of Canada, Punjabi Community Health Services and the World Sikh Organization.

The board has invited local imams from the Muslim community to attend a two-hour training session Wednesday on the curriculum — the same training that teachers are to receive — as part of its information outreach. In two weeks’ time, other faith leaders will be doing the same.

Peel is believed to be the only board in Ontario taking such a proactive approach to the updated health curriculum, which was first introduced in 2010 by then-premier Dalton McGuinty, who quickly abandoned it after an outcry from a small but vocal group of opponents who called it immoral and age-inappropriate. It was later reintroduced by Premier Kathleen Wynne, and implemented this fall in schools.

The groups that endorsed Peel’s guide don’t necessarily support the updated sex-ed curriculum — its first refresh since 1998 — but they do want parents to know what it’s all about before deciding if their children should take part. The guide will be handed out to families of children from kindergarten to Grade 12.

Parents have the option of removing their children from sex-ed lessons — teachers are to provide two weeks’ written notice — though kids cannot be exempt from anything about inclusivity, homosexuality or gender identity.

The guide includes information about what children will be taught and in what grade, and emphasizes that “while Peel schools ensure all students are taught factual, accurate information, parents, meanwhile, are responsible for sharing their values, morals, cultural and religious beliefs with their children.”

While Toronto has seen the most extreme sex-ed protests — with hundreds of parents who removed, and have kept, their children out of two schools since September, leading the public board to axe three teaching positions — that hasn’t happened in Peel.

However, Woodland said, “we have had schools where parents have expressed concerns, where they saw some of those pieces of information distributed last spring” that falsely said teachers would be using flash cards with pictures of genitals or telling students to take off their clothes.

“There were a lot of really ill-informed rumours along the lines of kids being taught about masturbation and sexual acts from a very young age and being encouraged to be sexually active at a very young age. It was baseless,” said Balpreet Singh, legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization of Canada.

While it’s not the job of the organization to endorse the curriculum, “we do believe that parents have to have all the facts they need to make the right decisions for them and their children.”

Singh, who was born in Canada and grew up in York Region, said he “learned about the birds and the bees from my teacher in Grade 3, and I recall it not being a particularly disturbing or shocking experience. People who have gone through the system tend to trust the way teachers bring these topics to students.”

As the father of a daughter in kindergarten, Singh said he “trusts teachers to do a good job when it comes to the curriculum . . . and I think the fact that so much attention has been paid to this topic that teachers will be more careful and more sensitive in the ways they deliver the curriculum.”

The Peel board is also taking out ads in local papers and will next week begin a month-long social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

Baldev Mutta, chief executive officer of Punjabi Community Health Services, said in his endorsement that “in today’s world, children need to know about their limits, responsibilities, (and how to) identify dangers to self and others.”

He supports the curriculum, which his own elementary-aged granddaughter will learn, because it is “age-appropriate . . . taught in a very responsible manner by qualified teachers.”

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