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.