2 Dec 2010

Conservative religious groups intimidate Ontario Premier to back down on proposed sex education changes

National Post - Canwest News Service Canada April 23, 2010

Sex-ed backlash inhibits McGuinty

New curriculum needs a 'rethink,' Premier says

Lee Greenberg | Canwest News Service

Just days after defending a new sex education program that would include mention of homosexuality in Grade 3 and anal intercourse in Grade 7, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has backed down in the face of a public backlash.

Mr. McGuinty said the government failed in its job consulting on and communicating the new plan to parents.

"I think for most parents it came out of nowhere," he said.

"We spent a good 24, 48 hours listening to parents and caucus -- and parents through our caucus -- and it's become pretty obvious we should give this a serious rethink."

Although the curriculum was released in January, it didn't receive any public notice until this week, when a Christian conservative banner group heard of the changes and planned a protest in response.

That action in turn revealed a massive gulf between the province's publicly funded secular and Catholic school systems, a gulf Mr. McGuinty himself seemed to ignore.

He insisted the new curriculum applied to "all students in publicly funded schools, including Catholic schools."

His education minister, Leona Dombrowsky, also said the Catholic Church supported the new curriculum.

But Catholic officials made it clear they were not prepared to implement any of the more controversial elements, including talk of homosexuality and masturbation in Grades 3 and 6 respectively.

"We would never move new concepts way, way down in the grades as the ministry document suggests," said Sister Joan Cronin, executive director of the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE), on Thursday moments before the McGuinty announcement.

"Talking about homosexuality and masturbation to primary children is hardly age appropriate," Sister Joan said.

"Certainly it's not in the Catholic community. I'm not judging for other people.

"The Church disapproves of masturbation on any level," she said.

Homosexual acts are viewed as "disordered," according to Catholic teaching.

Sister Joan's Church-sanctioned organization was tasked with developing a Catholic version of the new curriculum.

She said it would have been "totally" different from the secular version, which was developed to reflect a new reality -- that adolescents are sexually active at an increasingly younger age and, at the same time, are able to access a range of digital information previously unavailable.

Mr. McGuinty was squarely behind the new curriculum when he was first asked about it Tuesday morning.

"They are going to get this information," he said moments after a Christian family values group alerted the media to the changes. "If we can provide [it] in a format and in a venue over which we have some control or they can just get it entirely on their own and be informed by potentially uninformed sources, like their friends at school.

"So why wouldn't we recognize that we live in an information age and why wouldn't we try to present this information in a thoughtful and responsible and open way?"

Within 54 hours, Mr. Mc-Guinty reversed course.

"[Parents] are obviously not comfortable with the proposal that we put forward," he said on Thursday. "So we're going to improve on that."

He said more consultation would be conducted in various communities across the province. There is no timetable for those consultations, however, and no guarantee the new curriculum will come back into effect at all.

Asked on Thursday whether he had misjudged support from the Catholic Church, Mr. Mc-Guinty replied: "It's not about one faith or another. It's about shared values."

However, Catholic leaders made it clear they didn't share the same values as some of those espoused in the revamped curriculum.

Homosexuality, for instance, is raised in a Grade 3 lesson on "visible and invisible" differences, where it is portrayed alongside other innate skills, talents, learning abilities, cultural values and beliefs.

Catholic boards had said they would raise the issue in Grade 8 instead, and only then in a religious context.

Sister Joan said the new curriculum would amount to a mere supplement of the preexisting curriculum, known as the Fully Alive Family Life Education Program.

The brief but intense controversy over the curriculum changes surely harkened memories of the 2007 provincial election, when faith-based school funding determined the election.

Former Conservative leader John Tory tabled a plan to extend religious school funding beyond Catholic schools in order to rectify what he called a historic injustice.

Mr. McGuinty, a product of the Catholic system, rejected that plan. He portrayed Ontario's current system as a more inclusive, unifying option.

This article was found at: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2940848


CBC News - Canadian Press April 22, 2010

Sex-ed change needs 'rethink': Ont. premier

A controversial new sex education curriculum that would have seen Ontario children learn about sexual orientation in Grade 3 and masturbation in Grade 6 will be postponed and reworked, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday.

It's obvious from listening to parents over the past two days that the curriculum needs a "serious rethink," McGuinty said after an unrelated event in London, Ont.

"We'll take the [sex ed curriculum] we had proposed putting into place back off the shelf," he said.

The government, McGuinty added, will "create more opportunities for parents to lend shape to a policy with which they are more comfortable."

"I know that parents are supportive of the idea that children should be taught about their body parts, relationships and those kinds of things," said McGuinty. "But they are obviously not comfortable with the proposal that we put forward, and so we are going to improve upon that."

The existing sex ed curriculum, which hasn't been updated for 12 years, will remain in place, he said.
The proposed changes outraged some religious and conservative groups who say they're not comfortable with teaching kids as early as Grade 3 about same-sex families.

Under the changes that were quietly released in January, Grade 1 children were to be taught to identify genitalia — among other body parts — using the correct word, such as penis, vagina and testicle.

In Grade 5, children were to be taught to identify parts of the reproductive system and describe how the body changes during puberty.

In Grade 7, the plan was to teach kids how to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

NDP education critic Rosario Marchese said the government's sudden about-face shows the Liberals are overly sensitive to the criticism from certain groups.

"I'm disappointed he backed down so quickly," said Marchese.

"I'm worried about the fact that yesterday the premier said 'we're forging ahead because we think we're doing the right thing' and a day later he's saying 'we made a mistake, we should have consulted better' .... Based on this problem I think the premier should consider going to confession," said Marchese.

Marchese said the NDP supports sex education in schools but believes parents should make the final decision about when it's taught. "There is room to talk with parents about when it should start ... we believe parents are the final arbiters of these moral decisions."

The government's about-face has pleased representatives from the Canada Christian College, who said they are "thankful that the premier has come to his senses," CBC's Marivel Taruc reported Thursday. (With files from The Canadian Press)

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