Although Ontario’s revised sexual education curriculum recently made headlines again after a flip-flop by Conservative leader Patrick Brown, who went back on his pledge to “scrap” the year-old curriculum, Jewish school administrators are continuing to move forward with decisions they made for their schools last year.
In August, Brown wrote an op-ed in the Toronto Star to own up to a “mistake” he made by promising to scrap the province’s updated sex-education curriculum during a byelection campaign.
“It is important to have sex education to combat homophobia, and raise important issues like consent, mental health, bullying, and gender identity. The world has changed and so should the curriculum,” Brown wrote.
Although Brown apparently had second thoughts on the issue, Netivot HaTorah Day School’s head of Jewish studies Rabbi Elliott Diamond held firm on a statement he made last year that the Orthodox elementary and middle school wouldn’t implement the new curriculum.
“We feel that elements of the program – specifically the sex education sections – reflect a position that is not supported by our parent body and our religious perspective,” he said.
Under the revamped curriculum, which hadn’t been updated since 1998, Grade 1 students are taught the anatomically correct names of body parts, Grade 2 students learn about basic stages of human development, and third graders learn to respect people with visible and invisible differences, including “gender identity, sexual orientation, family background, and personal preferences.”
In Grade 4, students are taught about bullying, personal hygiene and physical changes in puberty, and in Grade 5, they learn about parts of the reproductive system.
Sixth graders learn more about puberty, healthy relationships, and address stereotypes and assumptions. In Grade 7, the curriculum includes the risks of early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the concept of consent. In Grade 8, topics such as contraception, sexual intimacy, decisions about sexual activity, and discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation are explored.
Private elementary schools aren’t obligated to follow the provincial curriculum, but private high schools are.
Mordechai Sabeti, director of education at Bnei Akiva Schools of Toronto, said that “as a credit-granting secondary school, our school follows the Ontario curriculum guidelines.” He added that “teachers partner collaboratively with our Judaic studies faculty to teach this new curriculum within a halachic framework in a way that both embraces the many positive educational values of the new curriculum and helps our students to understand and appreciate how Orthodox Jewish authorities analyze, discuss and rule on various issues in this area.”
Maytal Oziel, a York Region District School Board teacher who has two children at the Joe Dwek Ohr HaEmet Sephardic School and sits on its education committee, said she was never told one way or the other whether the curriculum was implemented, but said, “I highly doubt it.”
Emails to Ohr Haemet administrators for confirmation were not immediately returned.
“If it was implemented in the school, I would be for it,” Oziel said, adding that “the Ontario curriculum is very good, and I think the more private schools implement pieces from the Ontario curriculum, the more beneficial it is for the kids.”
But Oziel said she’s also torn, because she has reservations about her daughter, who’s in Grade 1, using the word vagina.
“Some parents aren’t ready to talk about certain things with their kids, like masturbation in Grade 6. Some parents don’t ever want to have that conversation with their kids.”
Daniella English, a mother of four, with three kids enrolled at Ohr Haemet, said she supports the updated curriculum.
“You have to be culturally sensitive and appropriate… [but] if they don’t get it from us, they’re getting it from the Internet or their friends. You can’t shield yourself or put your head under the blanket and think that they are not going to find it,” English said.
“We’re not just talking about putting knowledge in kids’ heads. You’re talking about how it translates in the streets in terms of physical safety and boundaries and a million other things.”
Administrators at Leo Baeck Day School and the Anne and Max Tanebaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto have said that their schools follow the updated curriculum. Efforts to reach Associated Hebrew Schools, and Eitz Chaim Schools for comment were unsuccessful.