by Hilary Thomson and David Shanahan
Students at St. Michael Catholic High School and North Grenville District High School (NGDHS) participated in a province-wide walkout on Friday afternoon to protest the repeal of the former liberal government’s 2015 sex-education curriculum.
The curriculum, which was promoted as teaching students from Grades 1 to 8 about healthy relationships, gender identity, consent and respect, was scrapped by the Ford administration in July, in favour of the older 1998 curriculum, which does not cover topics like same-sex marriage and online safety. The new curriculum met with strong opposition when it was introduced, with many parents believing that it introduced topics to an age group not yet mature enough to handle them. Others believed that it was essential that students be educated before they met with issues in life.
The new Ford administration announced that the new curriculum would be replaced by the older one, and this led to a province-wide, unofficial walkout of students in a number of high schools. The walkouts used the hashtag “We Do Not Consent”
Organizer of the walkout at St. Mikes, student Madeline Hubbard, says their goal for the walkout was to show that the students care about what is, and what isn’t, taught in schools. “We have been told that, because the announced changes to the sex ed curriculum don’t affect us, we shouldn’t be walking out. But these kids who aren’t being provided a modern education are going to be our neighbours, our co-workers, our friends,” she says. “We are spreading awareness about this change and sparking conversations.”
The other organizer of the walk-out at St. Mikes, student Sebastian Miln, believes that the repeal of the sex education curriculum is meant to repress already marginalized groups, like the LGBTQ community. “We are fighting for future students like us, who need this education to live in a province that accepts and appreciates them for who they are; so that, maybe, one day we can live in not only a province that is for all people, but a country, and maybe even the whole world,” he says.
Not all students at St. Mikes agreed with the goals of the walk out. Student Caleb Carmichael organized a counter protest in support of Ford’s curriculum repeal. “We need to protect kid’s innocence as long as we can,” he says. “We do not need kids learning about oral sex in grade three.”
Dozens of students at St. Mike’s and over 100 at NGDHS participated in the walk-out against the wishes of both schools. NGDHS sent a letter to parents letting them know that it was not a school sanctioned event. “Our staff will continue to bring to the attention of our students the appropriate channels available to them to express their views in a manner that promotes a balance between the interests of students and our obligation to safely operate schools and supervise our students,” the letter says. Police officers were on hand at both high schools to ensure student safety during the walk-out.
The Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario also released a statement about the student walkout. “This week it was brought to our attention that a group known as “Decolonize Canadian Schools” had reached out to students across the province encouraging them to organize a student walkout on September 21st at 1:00 pm. This walkout was not sanctioned by the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario. Our school principals have met with student leaders to discuss alternative methods of sharing their voice on provincial issues, as student voice is critical in helping to ensure that schools are safe, inclusive and accepting environments. However, in schools where students have decided to proceed with their participation in this walkout, information has been shared with parents, and staff were on site to provide supervision to ensure the safety of all students.”