A clash of values within the public education system

While much of the recent media headlines have been on Premier McGuinty’s Putting Students First Act (Bill 115), another storm has been brewing on the edges of school board, one which is much more fundamental to the ideals we hold for our public education system.

“Religion, politics and education are never good friends,” was the response of one committee member at the recent TDSB Equity Policy Advisory Committee meeting.

Bill 113, the Accepting Schools Act (2012), has caused a furor among those who are strictly religious. The Act focuses on reducing bullying, specifically “To encourage a positive school climate and prevent inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia, transphobia or biphobia.” It’s an important public statement.

Concretely, this means middle school kids can’t call something (or someone) a “fag” because they think it’s stupid.

Leading the charge is Public Education Advocates for Christian Equality (P.E.A.C.E.), which was formed when the Hamilton school board adopted an equity policy which, following the provincial human rights legislation, includes sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination.

The panic has spread to the Toronto area. School board staff have reported that principals have received thousands of a five-page “Traditional Values” form letters from parents requesting their children opt out of any lessons dealing with “family values,” environmentalism, ethics, gal, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered issues, sex education, STDs & condoms and/or abortion.

In one Toronto neighbourhood, up to another hundred parents have asked taken a more radical step and asked to home school. One school superintendent spent a recent Friday afternoon signing up to 20 of these permission forms. (Truancy laws require that parents demonstrate a child will be educated, within or outside the provincial school system.)

TDSB equity staff are clear that nothing in the curriculum has changed since the Bill 113’s passage (“still age-appropriate and culturally-sensitive”), but are disturbed by the panic they see.

Student trustees are organizing a video campaign – no doubt when the rest of the system settles down.

Stock letter asks schools to warn when sensitive subjects arise, Toronto Star, Sept. 11, 2012

Conservative religionists blast Ontario schools with ‘opt-out’ letters for students, Toronto Star, Sept. 11, 2012

More voices on religion in school, Toronto Star, Letters to Editor

Let’s talk about sex, Muslims, Huffington Post, October 2, 2012

 

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