Saturday, February 11, 2017

When White Privilege Becomes White Power

The story of York Region District School Board Trustee Nancy Elgie has taken some disturbing turns since the December 8th, 2016, revelation that she used the word "nigger" in reference to local parent. The remark was made privately, days before, at a public meeting where York Region parent Charline Grant was in attendance. Ms Grant previously had launched a human rights complaint, charging that her son had been the victim of racist treatment in his school. The private comment was soon reported to the parent, and the board initiated an investigation.

In the early stages, Mrs Elgie denied ever having made the remark. The Toronto Star's Kristin Rushowy and Noor Javed write:
Elgie, 82, could not be reached for comment on Thursday. However, reached at her home Wednesday, she told the Star “there is no merit in the accusation, but I will co-operate fully in the investigation.” 
When asked if she was denying having uttered the slur, she responded: “I’m not saying anything like that... I’m just saying there is no merit in the accusation.”
Trustee Elgie promised, nonetheless, that she would cooperate with the Board's investigation.

And the story went dark for better part of two months, when Krushowy and Javed reported on the Trustee's written apologies emailed to Ms Grant and others involved.
“There is no excuse for what I said, only the explanation that I was clumsily trying to refer to your concerns as reported in the media, not to you personally,” said Nancy Elgie of the incident last November when she referred to Charline Grant as a n-----, in public, after a meeting.
“As soon as my brain registered what I had said, I was overcome with shock and dismay. I felt heartsick and deeply ashamed to have said something so hurtful — even unintentionally — and so foreign to the values I have held throughout my entire life,” wrote Elgie, 82, who represents Georgina.
So a two-month investigation into the uttering of an anti-black racial slur went from Trustee Elgie's claim of "no merit in the accusation" to her being very sorry for having said it, but it was an accident.

So what happened during the two months of radio silence?

Toronto journalist Desmond Cole interviewed Charline Grant on his NewsTalk 1010 radio program, on January 22, 2017. Ms Grant explains that the board used its "Policy 240" to investigate the incident -- a policy normally reserved for staff involved in internal workplace matters, and which mandates no direct action, even in the event of a clear transgression. In other words, Trustee Elgie's apology is all Ms Grant, her family, and community may expect from the York Region DSB.

Here's the problem. This isn't an internal matter; it's a very public one, its disposition a matter of public interest. A trustee is not an employee. Trustees are elected officials, entrusted to set and maintain policy, oversee budgets, and supervise the board's director. At the community level, parents and other stakeholders look to trustees to be their voice in the boardroom and in the school. Principals and superintendents look to them to see that their schools get the resources they need from the board.

In this instance, the damage done by Trustee Elgie's words is by no means limited to Charline Grant and her family. YRDSB that has been the subject of other charges of anti-Black racism and Islamophobia. Parents in that community are concerned about the safety of their children in those schools.

This should be the story now, but it isn't.

Enter two of Mrs Elgie's adult children: Stewart Elgie and Alyson Harrison, both university professors, the latter a neuropsychologist. In a February 7th, 2017, op-ed piece for The Toronto Star, the siblings plead their mother's case:
Given the ugly legacy of racism in society, it is not surprising that many people were quick to assume the worst of Nancy, even discounting that she had suffered a head trauma several weeks earlier. Such words — even used accidentally — are painful and hard to forgive.
But since a person’s reputation and life’s work hangs in the balance, we ask you to consider a few facts, and then judge for yourself.

The Elgies recount their mother's October concussion, which, they explain, caused her to experience difficulties with words; her career as a child psychologist; as well as the admirable reputation of the late Robert Elgie, their father and a former Cabinet Minister in the Ontario Government.

Pushback on the piece was swift and angry -- necessarily so. Save for an acknowledgement of a "legacy of racism," the concerns of an entire community in York Region are set aside so that we may ponder a "reputation" that "hangs the balance." The article is essentially a character reference written by family members. A photo of Mrs Elgie, looking frail with her head wrapped in a bandage, appeals the reader's emotions. The writers' bona fides on display in the bio-line are an appeal to authority. 

Enter Kathy English, The Toronto Star's Public Editor, in an article dated February, 10th, 2017. Ms English responds to criticisms levelled of the Elgies' op-ed levelled by readers and Star staff:
The opinion article was wholly sympathetic to Nancy Elgie, as one would expect of an article written by her children.
But the reality is that the reason all the facts they recounted had not come out yet was because they themselves had chosen not to tell the reporters and had indeed asked the reporters not to report specific details of their mother’s head injury. When her children later decided to disclose more details, they opted to bypass the reporters who would have certainly asked them tough questions about why their mother had continued to work as a trustee. (Emphasis mine.)
Reporters ask questions. Reporters report facts. Expert opinion is sought from experts who are not attached to a story. People close to the story, like family members, don't get report. In that same newsroom, a family member or close friend of Nancy Elgie doesn't report the story. Anybody looking at this can see very plainly the op-ed was published because the Elgie name is a powerful legacy. 

Privilege. Power.

"But, it's an op-ed," you might say. Getting published on the op-ed page of a major newspaper, admittedly, is not something just anyone can do. The Op-Ed Editor looks for people who have expertise and a point-of-view. That point-of-view might conflict with the paper's position on the other side of the fold. The idea is to put out opinions from a credible source that allow the reader to see a story from many sides. The close relationship of the writers to the person they are writing about crosses a line. Their unwillingness to answer "tough questions" from reporters further undermines their credibility. The introduction of new information, apart from the head injury Mrs Elgie suffered, is impossible to independently verify; nor do we know whether it was brought to bear in the YRDSB investigation.

So I ask, where's Charline Grant's op-ed? Remember her? She was the York Region mom concerned about racism in her son's school. She's the parent Trustee Elgie was talking about when she uttered the slur. She is the face of people in that community who feel the sting of Trustee Elgie's words. The same people waiting for answers and action on anti-Black racism and Islamophobia in their schools.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Patrick Brown Flips on "Sex-Ed" Curriculum

A year after appearing to pledge support for revised sexual health components of Ontario's Health and Physical Education curriculum, Progressive Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown seems to have changed his mind. Mr Brown, who represents Simcoe North, recently distributed a letter promising to withdraw the curriculum if the Tories win a majority in a projected 2018 Provincial election. The release of the letter, which coincides with a byelection in Scarborough-Rouge River has been seen as a move to bolster the chances of Raymond Cho, the Tory candidate for the riding. Meanwhile, activists opposed to the curriculum had been hoping to make this a wedge issue in the election. Mr Brown's apparent change of heart is not really a surprise, but that's going to take some explaining.

We begin with Mr Brown, speaking to Toronto Life magazine in an article published July 29, 2015. When asked about his views on children learning about gender identity, given that he had voted against Trans rights legislation federally in 2011, the leader was concise: "I’m comfortable with teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity." In the same interview, he declined to go into specifics about what he did object to in the document. Still, this flies in the face of a statement made by Brown just last June, saying he would not withdraw the curriculum if his party formed the next government.

The grades one-to-eight curriculum, which had not been updated since 1998, was first introduced by the Liberal Government of Ontario under Dalton McGuinty in 2010. Conservative religious activists mobilized immediately, decrying lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity as age-inappropriate and counter to their religious beliefs. Premier McGuinty withdrew the document two days later, promising a "rethink." His successor, Kathleen Wynne reintroduced the curriculum in early 2015, insisting that it would be rolled out during the subsequent school year -- a year that was marked by protests, large and small, that seemed to fizzle by the spring of 2016.

Enter Scarborough-Rouge River independent candidate Queenie Yu, a local resident whose campaign website,, declares, "YU WILL FIGHT WYNNE'S SEX-ED AGENDA" at the top of every page. In an all-candidates Q&A with, Ms Yu cites withdrawing the curriculum in answer to a question on "What is the most important issue in Scarborough-Rouge River?":
The reason I am running is to remind voters of Wynne’s disastrous 2015 “sex-ed curriculum”.  The Liberals  - supported by the NDP - have introduced changes that are completely “age inappropriate”. Ontario schools are now teaching things to children at far too young an age. This “sexualization” of children has many parents very upset. Parents do not receive notice of when the material will be taught so they have no real chance to keep their children home that day. To protect our children, the Wynne sex-ed curriculum must be repealed. 
Ms Yu is not entirely correct. No, Ontario schools are not required to give advance notice of any instruction in curriculum. Further, the Ministry of Education has been clear there is no formal opt out for curriculum items that align with human rights, such as discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation. However, parents and guardians may indicate specific curriculum items they are concerned about to the school principal. This could give them the option of keeping their children home.

Which brings us back to Patrick Brown, a former Federal Conservative Party of Canada MP, whose successful Ontario Tory leadership bid drew praise from Campaign Life Coalition, and from Canada Christian College founder Charles McVety. Mr McVety, along with the late former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, had endorsed Monte McNaughton, who put the withdrawal of the curriculum and other socially conservative issues front and centre in his campaign. Mr McNaughton's campaign never lived to see the balloons blown up at the convention.

Even after winning the Tory leadership and his own seat, Patrick Brown stayed clear of the curriculum protests, leaving Mr McNaughton to tilt against sex-ed windmills. Eyebrows were likely raised when Mr Brown marched with the LGBTory Caucus in the 2015 Toronto Pride Parade -- a first for an Ontario Tory leader. 

Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Patrick Brown at
Toronto Pride Parade, 2015. Photo by Gordon Nore.
Ms Yu's campaign in Scarborough-Rouge has the backing of the self-described parental rights group Parents As First Educators. Though not a household name, PAFE has been prominent in the protest against the curriculum. Its president is Tanya Granic Allen, who has been a spokesperson for Campaign Life Coalition, an anti-abortion group. From Ms Granic Allen's statement supporting Yu:
Kathleen Wynne refuses to listen to parents demands to withdraw her disastrous s/x-ed curriculum. The NDP and Liberals agree with Wynne. I'm afraid Patrick Brown hasn't been strong on the issue either. Brown pretended to disapprove of Kathleen Wynne's s/x-ed agenda in 2015. Now he says: " I wasn't pointing out specific criticisms at the curriculum." Where does Patrick Brown and PC Party really stand on this issue? We need to send a STRONG message to Kathleen Wynne and Patrick Brown that Ontario parents MUST be listened to. We are sick of the rhetoric- we demand action.
Patrick Brown to the rescue. As quoted in The Toronto Star newspaper, Mr Brown's letter reads, "I believe sex-ed is important, but it cannot be significantly changed without extensively consulting the primary educators of children, who have always been parents." All of this omits that the 2010 document was the result of considerable consultation. "That document," writes Kathryn Blaze Carlson for the National Post newspaper in 2011, "was based on a two-year consultation with 700 students, 70 organizations and more than 2,000 individuals."

In a protest that has been marked with fibs and fabrications that would make the Trump campaign blush, it's no accident Mr Brown's statements on the curriculum avoid any direct criticism of what is actually to be taught. Same for Queenie Yu's campaign website. Since the re-issue of the document in early 2015, leaders of local protests have warned of grade one children disrobing in class for lessons on body parts; children being "turned gay"; boys being told they are girls, and girls being told they are boys. The Ottawa Citizen newspaper's David Reevely summed it up nicely in his September 2015 piece: Sex-education protest organizers are just making things up now.

So why would Mr Brown speak out now? Scarborough-Rouge River has been a Liberal stronghold since it was created in 1999. Eyeing a 2018 general election, the Toronto east riding would make a nice trophy for the new Tory leader, but the Progressive Conservative candidate, Raymond Cho, has an uphill battle. While he is the current Toronto City Councillor for the riding, his previous aspirations to higher office in Scarborough-Rouge have not panned out -- that's two federal campaigns, running as a independent and a New Democrat; one provincial, as a Tory.

It seems unlikely that Queenie Yu will take the riding as an unknown independent, but in a tight race, running a single issue campaign, she might take single issue voters. Brown's letter offers them sanctuary in the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. His timing is impeccable (in a devious way), with the legislative assembly in recess, opposition MPPs won't be able to call him on the ploy before the September 1st, 2016, election is over. 

Additionally, Raymond Cho's campaign is co-chaired by former Toronto City Councillor Doug Ford, brother to the late Rob Ford. A win in Scarborough-Rouge is also a chance to revive FordNation in Toronto, as Mr Brown sets his sights on the 2018 election.

Whether or not this gambit gives Brown and the Tories a leg up in Toronto, news of the letter is being felt deeply by advocates for the curriculum. Doug Kerr is the founder of the Facebook group, People for Ontario's Sex-Ed Curriculum, which has networked parents, teachers and activists around the Province. "As a gay father with a child in the public school system," he says, "I'm incredibly disappointed. There was an opportunity for all parties to stand united in support of the curriculum, but instead Brown chose to side with anti-gay groups who are afraid of their kids learning about LGBT people. This is a disgusting attempt to throw out a divisive wedge issue just days before the byelection in Scarborough."

Pflag Toronto President Anne Creighton speaking at Toronto City Hall, 2015.
Background, LTR: Toronto Mayor John Tory,
City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, and NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo
Photo by Gordon Nore
Pflag Toronto President Anne Creighton agrees: "The new Health and Physical Education curriculum is a gift to children.  It tells them that they are ok even if they are different. That there's nothing wrong with being who they are. How can anyone see something sinister in that?"

Saturday, May 14, 2016

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie -- "Sanitizing" Sex-Ed

In a somewhat startling turn of events, it appears that a large number of grade one children in Thorncliffe Park are attending Health classes from the much-protested Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum. Here's a part of what they're learning, from the 2015 curriculum document:

Human Development and Sexual Health
  1. C1.3  identify body parts, including genitalia (e.g., penis, testicles, vagina, vulva), using correct terminology [PS] 
    Teacher prompt: “We talk about all body parts with respect. Why is it important to know about your own body, and use correct names for the parts of your body?” 
    Student: “All parts of my body are a part of me, and I need to know how to take care of and talk about my own body. If I’m hurt or need help, and I know the right words, other people will know what I’m talking about.” 
There's a catch.

Two different classes are being taught. One group of grade one children will learn the above. Another group, said to be about forty percent of grade one students at North America's largest grades 1-5 public school, will be taught the same lesson with the substitute terminology, "private parts," standing in for words like penis, vulva, vagina, and testicles.

Now here's the backstory.

Thorncliffe Park was, by any odds, the epicentre of parent protests against the revised curriculum that was re-released early last year. As protests in some areas of the GTA struggled to gather steam, Thorncliffe became the symbol of the campaign. A week-long "strike" of schools last spring saw ninety-percent of Thorncliffe students absent -- for a curriculum that would not be activated for many more months. An extended strike, beginning September of 2015 saw hundreds of students out of school for much of the fall season. Organizers, dubbing themselves Thorncliffe Parents Association, staged classes in a nearby park, and later in a community centre housed within the local library.

I attended their first protest in March of 2015, which was said to have drawn up to a thousand participants. The anger and vitriol of the crowd were palpable. Underpinning their efforts were preposterous assertions that Premier Wynne was planning to convert as many Ontarians as possible from heterosexual to homosexual, and that the curriculum document was a covert tool to sexualize children and make them vulnerable to pedophiles.

Thorncliffe Protest, March 14, 2015 -- Photo by Gordon Nore
Thorncliffe Park principal Jeff Crane had a crisis on his hands. Here he was, presiding over a vast inner-city school with a splendid reputation, and he was trying to convince parents to send their kids back to it. Mr Crane appeared in the media, explaining that the protests were driven by an extreme group of parents that he could not reach. Over the course of many weeks, he met with parents in small groups, going over the curriculum in detail. In time, the student population was mostly restored. Mostly, some students never returned, and the school's staff was reduced by three teaching positions.

And now the health curriculum rolls out.

In a May 13th article published The Toronto Star by education reporter Kristen Rushowey, Mr Crane explains how the compromise was reached: 
“We let parents know ahead of time when the health strands for human development were being taught and, for Grade 1, that there would be one lesson where there would be discussion of body parts … They were told if learning the names of genitalia was a concern, they could write me a letter requesting a religious accommodation,” said Crane, whose school is located in the riding represented by Premier Kathleen Wynne, who championed the updated health curriculum.
And this is where the story goes south. A number of critics of the revised curriculum are asking -- and it's a good question -- what does appropriate terminology have to do with accommodating religious beliefs? Again, the offending words from the document are vagina, vulva, penis and testicles. 

The rationale? Jeff Crane explains in the star article:
Crane said things like learning the names of body parts is a worry for Muslim parents in the school, “because, the way it has been explained to me, it’s a very modest culture, a modest religions, where speaking about anything to do with genitalia is something not brought up until children are older.”
Health education experts, law enforcement professionals, prosecutors, and the medical community agree that it is crucial that young children be able to describe accurately their genitalia as a line of defence against sexual assault. Children who can do so, it is believed, are better able to enforce no-touch boundaries and to report when these boundaries have been breached. Assigning non-specific terms to genitalia reinforces shame and secrecy, and also makes it much more difficult to interview a child who may have been victimized. 

According to some reports, children are most vulnerable to sexual assault between the ages of five and nine. Delaying this conversation because of modesty is a disservice. How many child sex abuse survivors do we need before this point gets across. Imagine a child being interviewed by a children's aid worker or detective: "I'm not allowed to talk about down there."

Alex McKay, Executive Director of the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, echoes the same concerns on CBC Toronto's Metro Morning program with Matt Galloway:

According to a spokesperson for Education Minister Liz Sandals was asked to comment for the Toronto Star story, “we value the full range of diversity among our students and aim to create safe, inclusive and accepting school environments that support the achievement and well-being of all students. We want students to be in the classroom and learning.”

So, the Ministry has nothing to say on the matter.

"If you give a mouse a cookie, 
he's going to ask for a glass of milk."

Sexual health educator Lyba Spring, also quoted in the Star, sees the thin edge of the wedge:
“They are already subverting the curriculum … what happens especially in Grades 5 and 6, when they are talking about sexual intercourse … because they are talking about the prevention of sexually transmitted infections? What happens as they are talking about consent? I can just see parents’ minds working, and at every step of the way, they will try and subvert and disrespect the curriculum.
“If schools ‘accommodate’ at this early stage in the game, they are setting themselves up for real battles later on, and the only ones who are going to suffer are the kids.”
Carly Basian, of My Sex Ed, agrees. From her Facebook post:
...who are these accommodations for? Parents. Who are we teaching? Not parents! Many students are curious about the new sex ed curriculum and are eager to learn. Of course, we must respect religious views and personal outlooks, but our curriculum is not offensive - it teaches students information that has been empirically supported (the revised curriculum was developed by experts in the field, including psychologists, experienced teachers and sex educators). Not to mention, a lot of the controversial topics (e.g. gender identity and sexual orientation) is something that is embraced and celebrated in Canada. We have laws protecting folks who identify on any part of the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity, so it is fitting to talk about it with our students - who are not exempt from falling somewhere along the aforementioned spectrum.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter. A health curriculum is meant to teach children about their bodies. Their human bodies. Not Muslim bodies, or Christian bodies, or even atheist bodies. The normal growth and change in these bodies will proceed regardless of what language they speak at home; what house of worship they attend. In all the discussion of so-called "parental rights" vs educational expertise, there is one point that cannot be ignored. These children own their bodies and will have to live in them, regardless of many parents scream and yell at school buildings.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Brothels and Pot Shops

As I write this, Canada's federal election is five days away, with Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party enjoying a lead as Tory fortunes decline. And Thomas Mulcair's New Democratic Party settles into third place. 

"Nothing to see here. Move along," you might say.

Normally a Liberal win is welcome news among the party's traditional base of new immigrants. This demographic has fortified the Liberals since the days of Pierre Elliot Trudeau and forged inter-generational loyalty to the party.

And, of course, the Tories know this. So this happened.

CBC News: Conservative ads aimed at Chinese, Punjabi voters claim Trudeau backs brothels, pot sales to kids

And there's this from Jason Kenney, our Minister of National Defence, formerly Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism. 

Huffington Post Canada: Jason Kenney Accuses Trudeau Of Supporting Brothels 

It's delusional nonsense, of course. Mr Kenney doesn't believe it for an instant. It's disinformation aimed at low-information voters who depend upon others to decide what to do when the polls open. 
So who's buying it? 

Or, rather, who's attempting to sell it?

We turn to the leaders of Thorncliffe Parents Association. As with other member groups of The Canadian Families Alliance, TPA is a non-fact-based organization whose members take umbrage and offense with sexual health components of the 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum. Since about February of this year, assorted ad hoc groups advocating for so-called parents' rights in Ontario have labelled this recent update to a seventeen-year-old curriculum as everything from "age-inappropriate" (a phrase which has lost all meaning due to abuse) to being some sort of crazy scheme to groom children to acquiesce to early sex and change gender identity and sexual orientation at will.
Thorncliffe Parents Association Facebook post; October 14, 2015

Where do we begin?

The endgame of TPA and other organizations is to unseat Liberal MPs federally as a warning to Liberal MPPs provincially in Ontario. TPA has its sights on Rob Oliphant, a Liberal contender for east Toronto's Don Valley West riding, and a Minister of The United Church of Canada.

Sex work -- or, prostitution, if you must -- was already legal in Canada before a 2016 Supreme Court ruling struck down specific provisions of the criminal code which made that legal activity unsafe, and thus were deemed unconstitutional. The Government of Canada was given a deadline to write a new law. Since the High Court reaffirmed the legality of selling sexual services, the Harper government crafted a law to make purchasing these services illegal.

Yep. They outlawed one half of a transaction because the other was legal.

Many opposition party members voted against the legislation because it ignored the spirit of a decision handed down by our highest court; it unnecessarily jeopardized the safety of a vulnerable and marginalized group of Canadian workers; and therefore it was unlikely to survive scrutiny going back up through the court system.

Which has nothing to do with Kathleen Wynne's Liberal Party in Ontario.

Or helping children to better understand their own bodies and feelings.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Thorncliffe Park Sex Ed Protest Draws Responses From Several Educators

A month ago I posted about a speech given by Peel District School Board director Tony Pontes, stating his board's position on the updated Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum. Peel, like Toronto, had been the focus of parent protests against portions of the curriculum dealing with Human Development and Sexual Health. Mr Pontes, whose speech was quoted in the Toronto Star, was adamant:
“We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” said Pontes, who cited Ontario’s Human Rights Code as applying to people of all sexual orientation and gender identity. “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.”
 And now, Toronto enters the fray.

The Toronto neighbourhood of Thorncliffe Park has seen, without a doubt, the highest concentration of parent protest against the curriculum. The first day of a five-day province-wide "strike" last spring against the curriculum saw a staggering ninety-percent of the student population absent from North America's largest K-5 school. While other jurisdictions, like Ottawa-Carleton, saw very little activity, Thorncliffe has remained the epicentre of the We Say No movement.

I blogged about the nascent protests there last March, and the leader of Thorncliffe Parents Association last May. At the start of the school year, TPA stepped up its protests by calling for parents in the community to keep their children out of school altogether. Absenteeism at the school was around half at the start of September 8th protest -- well below last spring's numbers -- and has since dwindled to 200 absent per day by the end of September.

 Photo: Michael Peake, Toronto Sun/Postmedia Network

In the early days of the school year children took classes on or underneath tarps in William Burgess Park, adjacent to the school. Within a number of days, these makeshift classes delivered by local women were moved into the nearby Jenner Jean-Marie Community Centre.

Photo: Bernard Weil, Toronto Star
Thorncliffe Park's principal Jeffrey Crane has recently given two interviews to media about the protest and the Thorncliffe Parents Association. The first was on the October 1st edition of CBC Toronto's Metro Morning with Matt Galloway. Mr Crane raises a number of concerns about the protest.

According to Mr Crane, members of TPA have told him the curriculum is part of a plan by Kathleen Wynne to indoctrinate Ontarians into becoming homosexuals. Other parents, he suggests, merely see the curriculum as age-inappropriate and are beginning to challenge the TPA's strategy. "These protesters are unreasonable -- I can't reach them. The majority of our population in Thorncliffe Park are just concerned parents. They worry about the things they heard." Mr Crane says that he has spoken to many groups of parents, trying to dispel myths about the HPE document. 

He is also very concerned about the quality of instruction children are receiving in the "home schooling group" set up by TPA. Press photos of "school in the garden," show that volunteer tutors are using Canadian Curriculum guides which are actually books of worksheets that most teachers would never touch, except for occasional practice in specific skills, like punctuation. As he points out, they're readily available at stores like Costco and are no substitute for proper instruction.

I'll go a step further. Any school like Thorncliffe has learners who have English as an additional language; learners who struggle with print; learners who are on the autism spectrum; learners with many complicated needs, some as yet unrecognized. Handing out work sheets to students who are using their backpacks as makeshift writing surfaces while sitting on a floor or staircase, overseen by untrained volunteers is reckless and irresponsible. Not only are these children likely not learning; some may find this form of instruction quite distressing. TPA, like other groups, has often claimed that "one size does not fit all," when referencing sex ed; yet they subject these young students to exactly that.

In a second interview, given to CTV News, Mr Crane elaborates on the homophobia in the protest, which has overwhelmed the discussion of the curriculum.

While there has been considerable blowback among the various groups protesting the curriculum, a quick scan of Thorncliffe Parents Association's Facebook page shows a preoccupation with references to gender identity and sexual orientation. As Mr Crane alludes, the group clearly has issues with LGBT teachers and consultants in the school. This particular post on their page makes that abundantly clear:

Posted to Thorncliffe Parents Association Facebook page. September 18, 2015.

From the post above to the TPA Facebook page. Spokesperson
Khalid Mahmood said he was not aware of this post, according to the Toronto Star.

Toronto Star education reporter Kristen Rushowey followed up on the Facebook post on October 2nd, the day after a planned province-wide school strike, coordinated by Canadian Families Alliance at network of anti-sex ed groups:
Khalid Mahmood, who has been at the forefront of the Thorncliffe protests and is a member of the parents’ association, said he was not aware of a Facebook post that raised concerns about gay teachers. The association is not upset about homosexual teachers in the school, but rather community agencies coming in to talk to the kids about equity and sexual orientation, he said.
Which doesn't explain the rather distributing post. As of this writing -- October 5th -- the graphic is still on the Thorncliffe page. Call it homophobia, or call it a bizarre preoccupation with all things homosexual; Mr Crane is quite right to suggest that the core group of parent protesters are in his words "unreasonable." To even suggest that a school or school board needs to disclose the sexual orientation of staff to a parent community is a few notches above unreasonable. 

Ms Rushowey's article profiles Thorncliffe teacher Susan Mabey who believes that homophobia is driving the protest:
“I have been on the front lines of the gay and lesbian movement since the early ’80s, and we fought long and hard for rights that are enshrined,” she said in an exclusive interview with the Star on Thursday, as 200 parents and children stood on the sidewalk out front of the school protesting the updated sex-ed curriculum.
“At Thorncliffe, we have toned down everything; we have been trying to be accommodating for too long,” she said. “There are gay teachers, there are gay students and transgender kids” in the school, as there are in society — and kids have questions about that, and about sex, about kissing and boyfriends, and the new curriculum gives them the facts.
Also on October 2nd, TDSB Director of Education Donna Quan released a letter affirming the curriculum. Echoing Mr Pontes' sentiments from a month ago, Ms Quan points out that "The Human Development and Sexual Health portion of this curriculum is just one of a number of topics covered within health and physical education." She also reiterates policy on opting out of curriculum:
For many years, TDSB schools have made accommodations for students based on their religious beliefs and practices, and we will continue to do so. However, we will not allow students to opt out of lessons or classroom discussions about gender identity or sexual orientation. As a public school board, we believe that it is important to foster greater understanding by students about these topics and to promote a learning environment that is consistent with the protections against discrimination found in the Ontario Human Rights Code. 
Thorncliffe Parents Association has vowed to continue its strike and home schooling cooperative during the month of October. Canadian Families Alliance has said more monthly Province-wide strikes are planned.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Peel District School Board Stands Up

It was a soggy Sunday, June 28th, this past summer when I met the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne. We were at the annual Toronto Pflag Pride Brunch, which takes place the morning of the Toronto Pride Parade, capping the nine-day festival. I was actually very excited to meet Ms Wynne; although I have never voted Liberal federally or provincially and harbour reservations about the Liberal Government. As well, in the last three years, relations between the federations that represent public educators, like me, and the Province have been quite strained. I was happy to meet her nonetheless.

Yours truly and Premier Wynne. June 28, 2015.
Having introduced myself, I began: "Premier, I'm an elementary teacher, and I know we've had our differences, but that's for another time. I want to tell you now as a teacher, a parent, and a member of the LGBT community how proud and grateful I am that you have stood firm on launching the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum."

Ms Wynne smiled broadly as she reached out to squeeze my arm. "We will get this done," she promised.

We exchanged pleasantries, and I went on a bit of a summer vacation from the fight over sex ed in Ontario. It's been quiet on that front, save for indications that Ontario's conservatives are not galvanized around this issue. 

First, Patrick Brown, the leader of the PCPO, marched in the Toronto Pride Parade with the LGBTory contingent. One month later, Toronto Life magazine published a Q&A with the Ontario Tory leader, who had only this to say about the sexual health curriculum components: "I’m comfortable with teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity."

Which probably went over like a fart in church with leaders of the anti-sex-ed movement.

PCPO Leader Patrick Brown at Toronto Pride. Photo by Gordon Nore.
Today, September 2nd, was marked by protests planned for every MPP's office in the Province. Many familiar activist groups were involved, but this time with a twist. The main organizer was Campaign Life Coalition, the political arm of the pro life movement in Canada. The rhetoric was all pretty much the same. The familiar signage continued deride the curriculum as "age-inappropriate," "radical," and "unscientific." The Ottawa Citizen's David Reevely was blunt in describing Campaign Life Coalition's sex ed talking points -- "Sex-education protest organizers are just making things up now," reads the title of his piece.

"A lot of it sounds pretty bad. For instance, as the protest people have it, in Grade 3 Ontario schools will now teach 'Gender theory (i.e. that boys can be girls and vice-versa).'
Yeah, OK, no. That’s not in the curriculum."
Indeed, the curriculum is often criticized for teaching the "questionable theory" of "gender fluidity" -- a phrase which appears absolutely nowhere in the document. 

Which brings us to the Peel District School Board.

As protestors around the province were piling into cars and even school buses to make their way to MPP's constituency offices, a speech by Peel's Education Director had been shared with the The Toronto Star newspaper. From Kristen Rushowy's article:
The same day as anti-sex-ed rallies were planned outside Liberal MPP offices across the province,  [Peel DSB Director] Tony Pontes was to tell teachers and superintendents about the Peel board’s tough stand, saying if parents have a problem with such strong support for equity and inclusion, the public system may not be right for them.

“Let’s be clear: Some in our community may not like this,” he says in a speech to be given Wednesday morning, a copy of which was provided to the Star.
After noting the 905-area board is opening its first gender-neutral washroom at a high school as well as introducing a new gender identity guideline for educators, some parents “may choose to switch school systems … if so, that is a price we must be willing to pay.

“We cannot — we will not — by action or inaction endorse discrimination,” said Pontes, who cited Ontario’s Human Rights Code as applying to people of all sexual orientation and gender identity. “Supported by legal opinion, bolstered by our core values, I would no more say yes to someone wanting a child excluded because of a discussion about LGBTQ than I would a discussion about race or gender.”

He said that while some parents do have “genuine concerns” that the board will work to address, critics of the updated sex-ed curriculum have used it to “raise fear, generate untruths and build constituencies of protest based on false information. I find that unconscionable.”

Mr Pontes' speech has already been met with derision and outrage. One-time leadership hopeful Monte McNaughton, the self-appointed point man on the curriculum, dashed off a sideways letter to the Minister of Education (screen-captured below), misspelling Mr Pontes' name, and implying that Peel is running afoul of Ministry policy on exemptions.

Screen cap of MPP Monte McNaughton's letter to MOE Liz Sandals.

Mr Pontes' remarks are completely in line with policy. On an individual basis, parents may discuss exemption or accommodation pertaining to curriculum based on religious beliefs. These accommodations to do not extend to human rights.

More importantly, Mr Pontes has called out the shrieking alarmism, misinformation, and flat-out bigotry that has characterized this protest for many months and cited reasonable, equitable policy. 

Well done.