When Doug Ford became premier and scrapped the 2015 health and physical education (sex-ed) curriculum, he claimed to be doing so "for the parents." Ford and the Progressive Conservatives toured Ontario in the months leading up to the election, decrying the previous Liberal government's sex-ed curriculum consultation and development process as an "insult to parents," and the curriculum itself as nothing but "liberal ideology."
Ford promised Ontario's parents that, as premier, he would deliver the "largest education consultation" in Ontario history, and a new, "age-appropriate," sex-ed curriculum. Instead, he's introduced a sham of a consultation that is a slap in the face of concerned parents, students, educators and health experts across Ontario.
Ford committed to a consultation process that would see parents in all of Ontario's 124 ridings have opportunities to provide input. What he has delivered on has fallen far short of that mark.
Instead of the comprehensive consultation that Ontarians expected, the Ford government has announced a pitiable series of 27 tele-town halls, where selected participants will have a few minutes at best to provide input, not on sex ed specifically, but on a variety of issues related to education.
Additionally, as the government announced in early September, Ontarians have the opportunity to fill out an online survey to provide their thoughts on education. Not only is there only one question about sex ed — and a question with a 500-word limit at that — but the question itself is biased from the get go, asking how we can build a new "age appropriate" health and physical education curriculum. The presumption being that the old curriculum wasn't age appropriate, which is, at best, an opinion, and at worst (as the overwhelming majority of evidence and international best-practices demonstrate, such as the United Nations International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An Evidence-Informed Approach, demonstrates), a flat out lie.
Meaningful consultation can't take place when your questions are biased and intended to produce a particular outcome in the first place.
More recently, a more in-depth online survey has been made available, with a few questions on health and physical education, but all the government seems interested in is asking what topics should be covered, and at what ages. That's not meaningful consultation. Meaningful consultation requires that those being consulted have a baseline understanding of what's already in the curriculum, and includes real conversations and qualitative feedback.
Watch: Ontario Students Walk Out Over Sex-Ed Curriculum
While there've been no details announced to-date about in person consultation, one Ottawa-area PC MPP, Jeremy Roberts, hosted an "Education Town Hall" last week. Twenty-two people showed up, and Mr. Roberts decided an appropriate use of their time was to talk at them for 75 minutes, and fail to address participant questions about how the data will be analyzed, or how the process will be made transparent.
And that's it, Ontario's "largest consultation" on education in history is two short online surveys, a few phone calls and one badly organized in-person meeting. Their website might be fortheparents.ca, but based on their plans so far, this government is more interested in talking about parent voice than actually hearing it.
Furthermore, while parent voice is crucial to a successful sex-ed curriculum, other voices must be heard too. Students, educators and experts must have a say in curriculum development. So far, they haven't, and the Ford government doesn't seem too inclined to change that.
Meaningful consultation is hard. It takes resources, time, and a commitment to tough conversations.
In sharp contrast, the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was developed in consultation with 4000 parents, 2400 educators, 700 students (through 26 face-to-face consultations) and 140 civil society organizations – including health experts like the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA) as well as faith-based organizations like the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association and Ontario Institute for Catholic Education.
The Liberal consultation was far from perfect. Despite being the most extensive consultation with parents on education in Ontario's history, most parents didn't have a chance to provide input, and those that did, only did so via an online survey. But at the least, it didn't claim to be more than it was. And it intentionally engaged students, educators and civil society organizations too.
Meaningful consultation is hard. It takes resources, time, and a commitment to tough conversations. Any consultation on a topic as contentious as sex ed will be fraught with disagreement, and emotions will definitely run high. But there's value in those tough conversations.
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If the Ford government is serious about sex ed, parent voice, and frankly, evidence-based education, they need to press the reset button. There's still time for this government to live up to their promise and deliver the most comprehensive consultation of parents — and students, educators and experts too — in Ontario's history. If they're genuine — and that's a big if — about delivering on a health and physical education curriculum that meets the needs of Ontario's families and kids, they'll go back to the drawing board and show us a consultation plan that includes real engagement with families, students, educators and experts.
But let's be honest here: Premier Ford and Minister of Education Lisa Thompson both know that real consultation won't deliver the results their social conservative base wants. They've faced a massive blowback from students, parents, educators and civil society organizations for their decision to revoke the 2015 sex-ed curriculum, a blowback larger than they could've possibly imagined.
They've realized that Ontarians support inclusive, modern and evidence-based sex education, but this government is more interested in appeasing the social conservative factions that fuel their electoral success than listening to Ontarians.
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