All students deserve to see themselves and their families reflected in Ontario’s mandatory education curriculum, and should receive information necessary to protect their health and well-being. Over the past year, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has taken many steps to make this vision a reality. We provided a submission to inform the government during its education consultation, and intervened in AB v Ontario, a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario case challenging the 2018 Health and Physical Education curriculum as discriminatory.
The OHRC notes the release of the 2019 Health and Physical Education curriculum. The OHRC commends the government on reintroducing and in some cases improving the mandatory content on sexual orientation and homophobia, diverse families, sexual and gender-based harassment and consent. The mandatory content on mental health and substance use will help position Ontario as a leader.
However, delaying mandatory content on gender identity and gender expression until Grade 8 is a step backwards. Children must receive timely access to information to protect their health and well-being, break down stigma and have inclusive learning environments. Research shows that transgender children and youth are extremely marginalized, have high rates of depression and suicide, and experience isolation and harassment, including in school.
The OHRC is also concerned that the government is requiring schools boards to allow parents to exempt their child from the Human Development and Sexual Health curriculum for any reason. The curriculum is meant to provide all children in Ontario with the information they need to be healthy and safe. Allowing parents to exempt children for reasons that go beyond religious accommodation undermines this goal.
The OHRC urges school boards and teachers to address LGBTQ2+ identities as much as possible when teaching the Human Development and Sexual Health curriculum – and to embed this learning in other parts of the curriculum, and in other school programs and activities. We also recommend that school boards collect detailed data on exemptions, and use this information to assess whether the exemption policies are having discriminatory effects on certain students.