Parents will be able to exempt children from sex-ed classes under new Ontario curriculum

The Ontario government’s revised sex-education curriculum for elementary schools includes instruction on health, cybersafety and consent, and requires school boards to allow parents to exempt children from teachings on human development and sexual health.

The new curriculum, released Wednesday, will replace a controversial teaching plan brought in after the Progressive Conservatives took power last year.

The Ministry of Education says the updated Elementary Health and Physical Education Curriculum will include instruction on mental health, body image and nutrition and online safety.

School boards across the province will also need to develop a “procedure allowing parents to exempt their child from instruction of the human development and sexual health education component” of the curriculum, the government said in documents posted online.

“Currently, not all school boards across Ontario have policies in place to address the exemption of children from sexual health education,” the government noted, adding that policies will need to be in place by November. Online resources will also be made available for parents who wish to tackle those topics at home.

Last year, Premier Doug Ford’s government repealed the previous 2015 curriculum, which included lessons on sexting, same-sex relationships and gender identity. In the interim, educators taught students material that borrowed heavily from a 1998 curriculum.

The new document will return to teaching those lessons covered by the modernized 2015 curriculum, but in some cases will do so when students are older.

The PC government’s plan is strikingly similar to the 2015 curriculum it scrapped, with several notable changes. For example, concepts of gender identity — previously introduced to students in Grade 6 —will now be taught in Grade 8.

The curriculum also includes learning on issues around cannabis use for students in Grades 5 through 8, and new lessons on concussions in Grades 1 through 8.

The PC’s decision to repeal the former curriculum sparked considerable controversy and launched a charter challenge from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The groups argued changes made by the government infringed on teachers’ freedom of expression and put students at risk by failing to be inclusive.

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