People with children in Ottawa’s public board got a chance to ask board officials and trustees how changes to the Ontario sex-ed curriculum will be affecting what’s taught in the classroom.
Questions about the rollback of the controversial 2015 sex-ed curriculum — and the province setting up a complaint line to enforce the use of the 1998 curriculum — dominated a parent information meeting at Lady Evelyn Alternative School Thursday evening.
Keara Dean, who has a child at Vimy Ridge Public School, said she was worried teachers second-guess themselves when asked a question about sexual or gender identity issues that were dropped.
“I’m not a teacher, but if I knew there was a snitch line that existed, I would be scared,” Dean said.
“I want my teachers to be able to teach and not worry about those things.”
Dean said the complaint line was “bullying” and she didn’t want the school board to back down.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has said the complaint line duplicates its existing complaints process, which allows for more responsive local decision-making.
Dorothy Baker, superintendent of curriculum services for the OCDSB, said there are still ways for the school community to address matters of gender identity and sexual diversity.
“Just because that’s not specifically in this curriculum does not mean that we do not have our gay-straight alliance clubs, that we don’t have celebrations of the lived experiences of our students,” she said.
There are also resources for teachers who have difficulty answering certain questions, she said.
Malaka Hendela, co-chair of the Ottawa-Carleton Assembly of School Councils, said parent councils can help supplement the sex-ed curriculum if parents are interested — and, she said, they are not part of the board.
“[If] we can do it with STEM (science, technology, engineering, math), there is no reason why we can’t do it with any other messaging if a parent council wants it,” she said.
Jolanta Scott-Parker has two children aged eight and 11 in OCDSB schools.
She would also like to see the public board take a firmer stance on the curriculum.
“What I’m hoping to hear is that our school board is going to take a stand and they will use their expertise as educators to continue to teach what they know our kids need in 2018,” Scott-Parker said.
Trustees weigh in
The meeting was hosted by incumbent school board trustees representing the OCDSB’s central zones — Erica Braunovan, Chris Ellis and Shawn Menard.
Braunovan said the board’s advocacy committee has already met to see how it can address issues such as the sex-ed curriculum rollback and the pause on writing Ontario’s Indigenous curriculum — both of which have led to letters to Education Minister Lisa Thompson.
Ellis and Menard said there will be motions before the board for it to stand by teachers if there are any “inappropriate” complaints.
They also talked about the importance of parents raising issues during the consultation for the permanent replacement of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum.
Braunavan and Ellis are running for re-election as trustees, while Menard is running for Ottawa city council — but still a trustee until the end of November.
The event included presentations from Tim O’Loan on the importance of the Indigenous curriculum, Richard Sharpe on raced-based data collection and Chris Farley Ratcliffe, the interim director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa, on sex-ed.
The province has suspended the process of writing the second phase of the Indigenous curriculum, which is part of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.
Sharpe has been advocating for the collection of race-based data on disciplinary and success rates in the board.
He said progress has been slow since trustees voted last spring to collect that data.
The board said it is consulting on how it will format that data and intends to begin collecting it this year.
Menard told the meeting the board would have enough money to proceed with the project, even if the PC government changed the Liberal equity policy that previously backed collecting race-based data.