Toronto students go on strike over mandatory sex-ed

Education
by Kiley Crossland
Posted 9/16/15, 01:00 pm

A student strike against a new Ontario-wide mandatory sex education curriculum cut a Toronto school’s attendance in half on the first day of classes last week. The controversial K-8 curriculum, unveiled last February, includes lessons on gender identity, homosexuality, masturbation, and consent that some parents claim are age-inappropriate and explicit.

About 700 students, nearly 50 percent of the student body of Thorncliffe Park Public School, assembled last Tuesday at a park near the school, where volunteers and parents taught the striking elementary students. So far this week, 467 students are still protesting, according to Christina Liu, a mom and president of the Parents Alliance of Ontario. The protestors are now holding volunteer-taught classes in a local community center.  Organizers say they plan to continue the strike through September.

Critics of the new curriculum—a diverse group of Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, and Hindu parents, among others—say its teachings are contrary to their faith and cultural convictions on sexuality and gender. Canadian Families Alliance (CFA), a coalition of over 20 pro-family and cultural groups, says member families are “devastated, outraged, and heartbroken.”

The CFA website lists the group’s objections, including lessons on genitalia and consent in first grade, gender identity and homosexuality in third grade, and masturbation and sexual pleasure in sixth grade. In eighth grade, teachers are asked to help students make a personal sexual activity plan, and students are told to keep a condom with them at all times if they plan to have sex.

“We feel our rights as the primary educator of our children are being undermined and disregarded because of the insistence that this curriculum be put through without further consideration or parental involvement,” the CFA website states.

Liu, whose organization is part of CFA, said parents are simply asking for a public conversation about the curriculum and how to protect the next generation. “This is a reasonable request,” Liu said. She noted that the government of Ontario spent $1.8 million dollars on radio ads this summer and recently launched a TV campaign supporting the new curriculum, but refuses to engage concerned parents.

Initially, parents believed they could opt their children out of the lessons if they wished. The week before school started, however, the director of education from Ontario’s second largest district said students would not receive religious exemption from lessons on homosexuality and gender identity because it would be discrimination. If parents permanently pull their students out of school, Tony Pontes with the Peel District said, “that is a price we must pay,” according to reporting by LifeSite.

One Muslim woman, a school principal at a local Islamic school not required to teach the new curriculum, released a school board-approved guide for Muslim parents with children in public schools. Farrah Marfatia insists that, from an Islamic perspective, the curriculum is not age-appropriate. She says the guide, which talks parents through the curriculum and helps them address any teaching contrary to the Muslim faith, is necessary. “[The curriculum is] here, so we have to deal with it,” she told The Hamilton Spectator.

Liu, however, is not ready to give up. She is critical of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s support of the curriculum and says she sees more recourse if protests don’t get traction: “Wynne’s total disregard for the concerns of hundreds of thousands of parents is completely unacceptable, and if she doesn’t want to listen to parents, hopefully the members of provincial parliament who represent them will.”

Kiley Crossland

Kiley is a former WORLD correspondent.

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