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Ontario's Revised Health and Physical Education Curriculum (2015)

Background

The revised Health and Physical Education curriculum replaces the curriculum implemented in 1998 (Grades 1-8; Grades 9-12). We live in a highly sexualized society where children and youth are being exposed to sexual images, ideas and concepts at a younger and younger age. While there are aspects of the curriculum to which some object, the curriculum needs to be updated on a regular basis. Updating a curriculum is not done through legislation requiring debates in the legislature and a vote, but rather is designed and issued by the Ministry of Education.

The new curriculum identifies a set of overall expectations and specific expectations for each grade, which describe the knowledge and skills students are expected to acquire, demonstrate and apply at each level. Each expectation is illustrated by possible questions teachers can ask and sample responses students might give to indicate they have met the learning objective. It is not a set of lesson plans. As indicated in the curriculum, the “examples and prompts do not set out requirements for student learning; they are optional, not mandatory” (p.20). Local school boards, principals and teachers have flexibility in how the learning expectations are achieved and how teachers can respond to questions. 

Parents or guardians should talk to their school principal and their children’s teachers about the parts of the curriculum that raise concerns and to explore alternative approaches that respect the religious and cultural diversity of the parents, students and community. The Minister of Education has a responsibility to ensure the curriculum and the education system is indeed public.

The Minister has stated that parents or guardians have the right to have their children exempted from parts of the curriculum that may offend their religious beliefs. However, as exempting a child from the classroom can stigmatize the child, the onus is on the public system to offer alternatives. 

Writing to the Minister of Education

We suggest that letters be addressed to the Minister of Education and that copies be sent to the Education Critics of the two opposition parties. It is also important to send a copy to your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), your elected representative in the Legislature of Ontario, so they are aware of your concerns.

For tips on writing effective letters to elected officials, see this page

Points to Consider When Writing

State that you are writing with respect to the recently released Revised Ontario Physical Education and Health Curriculum.

Commend the government for the positive aspects of the new curriculum: 

  • for undertaking the difficult task of updating an outdated curriculum to reflect the realities faced by schoolchildren in Ontario today.
  • for recognizing the primary role of parents in the education of their children. The Minister of Education has in recent public statements affirmed that parents or guardians have a right to exempt their children from portions of the curriculum which they find objectionable, including that which offends their religious beliefs. 

The curriculum states: 

“Parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models. It is therefore important for schools and parents to work together to ensure that home and school provide a mutually supportive framework for young people’s education” (p.13).

Identify the aspects of the curriculum that concern you as a parent, a grandparent and/or as a citizen. For example:

  • That sexual health, sexual readiness and sexual activity are issues of public health and are also matters of religious understanding, teaching and practice. The religious understanding of sexuality and sexual expression should be respected in the classroom and not be undermined, devalued or negated in the public school system.
  • That it is critical that children obtain accurate, age-appropriate information about bodies, relationships, sex and sexuality, at home and at school. However, what is age-appropriate many vary from student to student, and parents are best positioned to determine what is age appropriate for their child.
  • That many parents – whether religious or not – may prefer to address some of these sensitive topics at home, particularly with younger children, with an intimate knowledge of their own child and in a way that is consistent with the values and beliefs of the family. 

Affirm that it is important that parents and schools collaborate in the education of children and youth, and that parents be fully informed. The curriculum states:

“...as part of an effective teaching practice, teachers communicate with parents about what their children are learning. This communication occurs through the sharing of outlines of learning, ongoing formal and informal conversations, curriculum events, and other means of regular communication…” (p.16).

Ask for the Government of Ontario’s commitment that opportunities will be provided for parents, through parent/teacher/principal meetings or information nights, to understand the learning expectations and how the teachers plan to teach the curriculum, and to ask questions and offer feedback. 

Ask for the Government of Ontario’s commitment that schools will provide parents with reasonable advance notice of what material will be taught and when, so parents have the chance to discuss the topics at home with their children, to work with the principal and teachers to find alternative courses of study if the content and approach to be used raises deep concerns, or to withdraw their child from a particular lesson if they chose. 

Ask for the Government of Ontario’s commitment that parents will be allowed to exempt their children from portions of the curriculum that they find objectionable. And finally, ask for assurances that children exempted from portions of the curriculum will not in any way be disadvantaged in their classes or in the school system because of their exemption.

Addresses

Hon. Liz Sandals, Ontario Minister of Education
22nd Floor, Mowat Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto, ON, M7A 1L2
lsandals.mpp@liberal.ola.org

CC:  

Garfield Dunlop, Education Critic, Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario
Room 425, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON, M7A 1A8
garfield.dunlop@pc.ola.org

Lisa Gretzky, Education Critic, New Democratic Party of Ontario
Room 170, Main Legislative Building, Queen’s Park
Toronto, ON, M7A 1A5
lgretzky-qp@ndp.on.ca

Your MPP: You can find your MPP here.

Sample Letter

Dear Minister Sandals,

I am writing with respect to the recently released Revised Ontario Physical Education and Health Curriculum. We live in a highly sexualized society where children and youth are being exposed to images, ideas and concepts about sex at an increasingly younger age. Updating a curriculum on a subject on which reasonable people disagree is a difficult task.

I welcome your public statements recognizing the primary role of parents in the education of their children, and affirming the right of parents to exempt their children from portions of the curriculum which they find objectionable, including that which offends their religious beliefs.

The curriculum states:

“Parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal  beliefs and traditions, and they are their children’s first role models. It is therefore important for schools and parents to work together to ensure that home and school provide a mutually supportive framework for young people’s education.” (p.13)

Sexual health, sexual readiness and sexual activity are issues of public health, and are also matters of religious understanding, teaching and practice. Religious understanding of sexuality and sexual expression should be respected in the classroom and not be undermined, devalued or negated in the public school system.

It is critical that children obtain accurate, age-appropriate information about their bodies, relationships, sex and sexuality, at home and at school. However, what is age appropriate may vary from student to student, and from community to community, and parents are best positioned to determine what is age appropriate for their child.

Many parents – whether religious or not – may prefer to address some of these sensitive topics at home, particularly with younger children, with an intimate knowledge of their own child and in a way that is consistent with the values and beliefs of the family.

It is important that parents and schools collaborate in the education of children and youth, and that parents be fully informed.  The curriculum states:

“..as part of an effective teaching practice, teachers communicate with parents about what their children are learning. This communication occurs through the sharing of outlines of learning, ongoing formal and informal conversations, curriculum events, and other means of regular communication (…). (p.16)

I ask for your commitment that parents will be given opportunities to meet with principals and teachers to identify portions of the curriculum they find objectionable; that schools will give parents reasonable notice of when objectionable material will be taught; that parents will be allowed to exempt their children from portions of the curriculum that they deem objectionable; and that children who are exempted from the curriculum will not be in any way be disadvantaged in the school system because of their exemption.

Sincerely,

Related EFC Resources

Issue: Education

Current Status
What You Can Do
Resources

Printer-friendly version of the four webpages listed above (joined together)


Ontario's 2015 revised Health and Physical Education Curriculum

Loyola High School v. Attorney General of Quebec (Quebec ERC Curriculum)

S.L. v. Commission scolaire des Chênes (Quebec ERC Curriculum)

Bill 18, Manitoba's Anti-Bullying Legislation

Bill 13 and Anti-Bullying Initiatives in Ontario

   
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