Sunday, May 3, 2015

Dr Tourloukis is asking for more than an "opt out"

It was September 11, 2012, when most Ontarians first heard about Dr Steve Tourloukis and the Family Religious Values Letters. The Hamilton dentist was quoted in a Toronto Star newspaper article published that day:
“I’m not an extremist, but I must ensure that my children abstain from certain activities that may include lessons which promote views contrary to our faith,” said Tourloukis, who is supported by a group called the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund. “We know other denominations like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims are excused for certain activities. Does our being Christian disqualify us from equitable treatment?”
More specifically, Dr Tourloukis submitted a list of topics he deemed contrary to his faith, with the expectation that the school would provide him with advance notice of instruction in these topics, as well as an opportunity to view teaching materials.Based upon this, he would make the determination as to whether he would keep his children home from school on the day of those lessons.

This is where the Family Religious Values letters come in -- they're the work of retired educator and parents rights activist Phil Lees of PEACE Ontario (formerly PEACE Hamilton). PEACE stands for Parents Education Action for Christian Equity.  Mr Lees penned various versions of the letters, which can be found on his group's website:

Here's a portion of the current letter for Christian parents as it appears on the PEACE Ontario website:
A. Values/Religious Instruction
1. ____ Macro evolution – when presented as fact and not theory (i.e. as evidence of a purely materialisticuniverse and/or something that disproves the existence of God)
2. ____ Values neutral education – instruction of students in moral relativism and principles of situationalethics related to the religion of Secular Humanism
3. ____ Universe/Earth worship – worship of the cosmos, Mother earth (Gaia), plants, animals, etc.
4. ____ Occult principles and practices – witchcraft, black magic, spirit guides, Satanism, wizardry, New Age, astrology, horoscopes, psychic powers and other such practices
5. ____ Religious practices – required student participation in prayers, chants, meditations, postures, etc. closely associated with any religion

B. Family Life & Sex Education
1. ____ Instruction in sex education 
2. ____ Discussion of premarital or extramarital sexual activity as natural, healthy, or something to been encouraged 
3. ____ Instruction or activities that present abstinence/chastity as unrealistic or unachievable 
4. ____ Instruction about, or provision of, birth control drugs and devices 
5. ____ Instruction that provides a false sense of security with regard to the effectiveness of condoms inpreventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases 
6. ____ Teaching that abortion is an acceptable method of birth control and/or that life does not begin at conception 
7. ____ Instruction or activities about sexual conduct that we do not consider to be age-appropriateinformation (i.e. anal sex, oral sex, sadism, masochism, fetishes, bondage, etc.) 
8. ____ Instruction or activities dealing with homosexual, bisexual, or transgender conduct and relationships
9. ____ Encouraging the acceptance of infanticide or euthanasia

C. ____ Other (please explain) ___________________________________________________
In addition, I am/we are requesting the following:
1. As long as I/we remain liable to provide support to my/our child, I/we request that all employees and agents of the school refrain from counseling, treating, or referring my/our child for non-emergency treatment or admission to a care facility, or providing birth control materials without my/our knowledge and prior consent.
2. My/our child not be approached for his/her consent to participate in any of the above activities, with the intent to nullify this communication.
3. This document be made available in my/our child’s permanent student record and teachers who will be incontact with my/our child be informed about this communication and will inform me/us about sensitive curriculum (DOE 2210).In the event that a controversial issue arises in class, I/we will accept responsibility to either: a. speak with my/our child to help him/her better understand how this information applies to him/her as aperson of faith, or b. work with the school to seek reasonable, relevant, and realistic accommodations
Dr Tourloukis and the folks at PEACE Ontario want schools to put these letters in the student's permanent Ontario Student Record. Dr Tourloukis' school board declined to do so -- other boards as well -- prompting the parent to launch a suit.

Fastforward to 2015 and issue of opting out of the 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum -- or, more specifically, the sexual health components:
The Tourloukis case is being used quite disingenuously by the anti-sex-ed contingent to convince parents that the Province and the schools will not allow parents to opt out of the curriculum. In many of the news accounts of the various protests and petitions, parents are quoted demanding the right to opt out. They have that right -- contrary to the LifeSiteNews article linked in the tweet above -- to do so.

But the detractors have been persistent. Here's former TDSB Trustee Sam Sotiropoulos lecturing parents in front of Valley Park Middle School on April 11, 2015:

Mr Sotiropoulos and his GoPro address the crowd:
The Premier says we can opt out if we don't like the subject matter, but that is a bald faced lie. She is lying through her teeth.... The truth is, you can't opt your children out because the schools are already full of it -- under the guise of human rights, so called. What about our human rights? It seems there are sub-classes of human rights. Because it seems to me that some people's human rights are more important than other people's human rights. We're all equal, but some people are more equal than others. 
Then we have it from the man himself, Dr Tourloukis addressing parents at the largest anti-sex-ed protest to date at Queen's Park, in April 2015:

Dr Tourloukis: I have come to deliver a message that every Ontario parent urgently needs to hear: Promises for advance notice and opt-outs are easily made, but not necessarily followed.
Ladies and gentlemen....I hope you and I are granted the opportunity to have advance notice of lessons which deal sensitive subject matter. I also hope you and I are allowed to opt our children out of such classes if we choose, but I fear that may not happen. I have this fear because I have spent the last 2 ½ years in court trying to get advance notice and opt-outs. I asked my kids’ school for advance notification on lessons dealing with sexual orientation, abortion, birth control and a couple of other topics where a conflict with my religious beliefs could arise. I also asked my kids’ school to allow my children to opt-out if there was a conflict between teaching materials and my family’s faith. To date I have not yet been successful. Unfortunately, I have had to hire a lawyer and take the school board to court because they would not provide the advance notice and opt-outs as they had promised.
I have no idea what promises were made to Dr Tourloukis. The case is before the courts. There is a big difference between an opt out from curriculum and submitting a laundry list of topics a parent disapproves of. A parent, reading the following from the grade three health curriculum, might decide to go to the principal and ask that their child be excused from class -- with no penalty and with an alternate activity, which might be as simple as reading in the library or sitting in on another class. 

Human Development and Sexual Health
C3.3 describe how visible differences (e.g., skin, hair, and eye colour, facial features, body size and shape, physical aids or different physical abilities, clothing, possessions) and invisible differences (e.g., learning abilities, skills and talents, personal or cultural values and beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, family background, personal preferences, allergies and sensitivities) make each person unique, and identify ways of showing respect for differences in others [PS, IS] 
Teacher prompt: “Sometimes we are different in ways you can see. Sometimes we are different in ways you cannot see – such as how we learn, what we think, and what we are able to do. Give me some examples of things that make each person unique.” 
Student: “We all come from different families. Some students live with two parents. Some live with one parent. Some have two mothers or two fathers. Some live with grand- parents or with caregivers. We may come from different cultures. We also have different talents and abilities and different things that we find difficult to do.” 
Teacher: “How can you be a role model and show respect for differences in other people?”
Student: “I can include others in what I am doing, invite them to join a group, be willing to be a partner with anyone for an activity, and be willing to learn about others.” 
The principal talks to the teacher to determine when the item is coming up. They make arrangements and inform the parent. That is a reasonable accommodation. Let's get back to the PEACE letter -- what is being requested is not a reasonable accommodation by comparison. 

The teacher's primary role is to teach the Ontario Curriculum and to differentiate instruction in a way that meets the diverse needs of students in the classroom, taking into account learning needs and exceptionalities. The focus is supposed to be on the student as a learner -- not on the specific ideological preferences of parents and guardians. Consultation with parents focuses on the child's progress and the best ways to instruct and support them.

In contrast, following the letters, the teacher would shift focus on all long-rage planning to anticipate the specific concerns of multiple parents in the classroom. Then the teacher would have to document the lesson that hasn't happened yet, collect the supporting materials, and distribute them to parents far enough in advance that everyone can have a look-see. What if the teacher doesn't anticipate that an item that is in the curriculum runs afoul of a parent's beliefs?

Dr Tourloukis is not seeking an exemption from specific curriculum items; he's trying to order his children's education a la carte

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