Five changes to Ontario’s sex ed curriculum

TORONTO — Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government released a new health and physical education curriculum Wednesday, including sex-ed components that are largely similar to the previous Liberal government curriculum that the Tories maligned as ideological. Here are five topics that have changed:


Sexual orientation will be a mandatory topic taught in Grade 5, earlier than in the Liberals’ 2015 curriculum, which had it in Grade 6. Students will have to “identify intersecting factors that affect the development of a person’s self-concept, including their sexual orientation.” Gender identity will be a mandatory topic in Grade 8 _ it was previously mandatory in Grade 6. Students will have to “demonstrate an understanding of gender identity (e.g., male, female, Two-Spirit, transgender), gender expression, and sexual orientation (e.g., heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual), and identify factors that can help individuals of all identities and orientations develop a positive self-concept.”


The previous curriculum had consent as a mandatory topic in Grade 7, requiring students to explain the concept and how consent is communicated. It was also included as an optional teacher prompt in Grade 6, with discussions on how only a clear “yes” is a signal of consent. Students in Grade 1 must now demonstrate an understanding of the importance of consent, in the context of caring behaviours. Students in Grade 2 must explain the importance of consent and demonstrate the ability to stand up for themselves and others, such as reporting improper touching. Lessons on consent are also included in several other grades, and the word shows up nearly three times more often in this curriculum than the old one.


Cyberbullying was previously a mandatory topic in Grade 7, but that now moves to Grade 4. Students will be expected to “describe various types of bullying, abuse, and other non-consensual behaviour,” including cyberbullying, and identify the impacts they can have and appropriate ways of responding. As early as Grade 1, students will be asked to demonstrate an understanding of how to stay safe at home, in the community, when online and outdoors. Various other lessons on online risks are included, such as talking about online personal safety in Grade 2 and cyberbullying, including homophobic remarks, in Grade 5.


Recreational cannabis has been legalized for adults since the previous curriculum was published, and the new version contains many more references to it. The previous curriculum had lessons on the effects of cannabis “and other illicit drugs” in Grade 6. Now in Grade 5, students will have to identify factors that affect a person’s decision to drink alcohol or use cannabis. The effects of cannabis will still be discussed in Grade 6, as well as other drugs, including a mention of opioids, which were not mentioned in the previous curriculum. The effects of vaping are mentioned now, starting in Grade 4. It was not previously mentioned in the curriculum.


Since the introduction of the 2015 curriculum, the Ontario legislature has passed a concussion safety law, named after Rowan Stringer, a teen who died from second impact syndrome after multiple concussions as a rugby player. The curriculum now includes 80 mentions of the word concussion, and lessons on concussion safety start in Grade 1. Those students must “demonstrate behaviours and apply procedures that maximize safety and lessen the risk of injury, including the risk of concussion, for themselves and others during physical activity.” In the previous curriculum, concussions were mentioned as an example in a Grade 8 requirement that students “identify situations that could lead to injury or death.”

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