An Open Letter to Ontario’s School Communities
As the representatives of more than 55,000 of this province’s education workers, we are deeply disturbed by decisions of the newly elected government regarding the Ontario Curriculum.
First, the government cancelled curriculum sessions, one of which was making revisions in keeping with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), while others addressed ASL and Indigenous Languages. Then the government cancelled the sex education component of the revised 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum, reverting to a 1998 version that does not address critical issues like gender identity, sexual orientation, consent and cyber bullying.
While we cannot control the chaos caused by these curriculum changes, as education workers, we can and will continue to ensure our schools are safe, healthy and inclusive learning environments.
CUPE education workers in Ontario take seriously our role in making real the process of Truth and Reconciliation as guided by the TRC’s 94 Calls to Action, particularly those that focus on education for reconciliation. Working with our union’s Indigenous members, their communities and our other education allies, we will redouble our effort to see that Ontario’s government enacts all the relevant TRC recommendations. To that end, we join with those calling on the Ontario government restart consultations with survivors, Indigenous people and educators to develop a comprehensive, mandatory K-12 curriculum and learning resources on the true history and legacy of residential schools.
As front-line educations workers assisting students who are deaf and hard of hearing, we know more supports are needed, especially in the early years, and call for the continuation of the ASL curriculum development.
And we join students, parents and our fellow education workers in demanding the Ontario government return to teaching the entirety of the 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum.
Those of us who are Early Childhood Educators and Educational Assistants, working in the classroom with Ontario’s youngest and most vulnerable learners, have seen first hand how accurate, updated and inclusive sexual health education has assisted in keeping students safe and healthy. But it is not only CUPE members in the classroom who understand these issues.
It is also the custodian who comes across a student in a hidden corner of the school, retreating from a world that bullies them for their gender identity. It is the school secretary in the office with a student, who is asking to go home because they have been the subject of an unwanted sexual advance. It is the library technician, asked to assist a young student in finding a book that reflects their LGBTQ family. It is the IT staff tasked with blocking cyber bullies.
Given this reality, and the government’s recent actions, we feel it is imperative, as education workers in all four Ontario board systems – English and French, Public and Catholic – to make clear where we stand.
We stand with those school boards who have put out statements clearly expressing their unwavering commitment to equity and inclusion in all we do to support students, including our LGBTQ students. We agree this is not only a requirement under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Education Act and Board policies, but also a moral obligation. We call on our other employers, those school boards who have not yet put out statements, to follow the example.
We will stand up for any CUPE member, and stand with our education union allies, against any attempt to discipline education workers who are making sure students are getting the inclusive, factual and age-appropriate information they need to stay safe and healthy. This is as it was for students in the 2017-18 school year, and it is as it should be for students in the 2018-19 school year.
Most importantly, we will stand with, and stand up for, our students. Some of what is being said in the debate around the sex education curriculum is not only hurtful, but also potentially damaging to the long-term health and safety of students. It horribly suggests to LGBTQ students that what they feel about their gender identity or sexual orientation may not be appropriate to their age or even for discussion in their classrooms. It tells students facing cyber-bullying thatthe pain they are experiencing needs to wait. It intimates to those facing harassment and abuse that learning about issues of consent are not important.
As education workers, we know all of this is wrong. We know Sex Ed Saves Lives.
So, we will stand with our students.
We will celebrate and affirm every LGBTQ student’s identity. We will support every student’s fundamental right to consent. We will stand with students facing bullying, whether it is online, in school hallways or in the corridors of Ontario’s Legislature.
As CUPE education workers, students’ health and safety is not only our job. It is our duty. As people living in the province of Ontario, making real the promise of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous people is not some efficiency that can be cut, but an obligation we must meet.