TORONTO - The Liberal government's promised 'rethink' of Ontario's proposed new sex education curriculum for elementary school children may not result in any significant changes, Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky suggested Tuesday.
Premier Dalton McGuinty last week did an about face on the new curriculum, admitting the government should have done more to consult parents and withdrawing the policy after two days of negative feedback.
Both Dombrowsky and McGuinty promise parents will be consulted on a new sex ed curriculum, but the education minister acknowledged a lot of the ideas could go forward as originally proposed.
"There may be a range of options of either moving the entire document forward quickly or moving parts of the document forward quickly and saving other parts of it for (a) more robust consultation process," Dombrowsky told reporters.
The minister wouldn't say what specific aspects of the new curriculum were of concern to parents, and dismissed opposition claims that most parents in Ontario opposed the changes.
"We're not hearing that, but we want to do a better job engaging parents, and that includes most definitely understanding what's in the document, having them read the document," she said.
It was religious groups that raised the most opposition to the idea of teaching Grade 1 students the proper terms for body parts and introducing the concept of same-sex families in Grade 3, but the government prefers to say it bowed to parents' concerns.
Many experts, including Toronto's medical officer of health, believe the curriculum was on the right track and would be an important update for the Internet age.
Speaking at an unrelated event in Oshawa on Tuesday, McGuinty said the government had done "massive" consultations on the sex ed curriculum, which he noted is only one of 12 parts in the revamped health and physical education section.
"The 11 other areas don't appear to be controversial in any way, so I think we've done a lot of good work which we can in fact build on," said McGuinty. "I think we can find a way to introduce much of that into the curriculum this September, so it's not been for naught."
The Opposition said it looks like the Liberal government intends to ram the new curriculum into place by this fall so the issue is off the radar long before next year's provincial election campaign, which would leave little time for real consultations.
"I've never seen anybody flip flop so quickly in so few days," said Progressive Conservative education critic Elizabeth Witmer, who noted the government tried to claim Catholic boards support the changes when they really don't.
"There seems to be some secret consultation going on with the Roman Catholic school boards," she said. "Are we going to have one new sex education curriculum or are we going to have three or four?"
McGuinty should be embarrassed at changing his mind so frequently on the issue, added Witmer.
"We had Chicken Little last week, and now we've got the peacock strutting who's going to move forward regardless of what parents think," she said.
Many people who objected to the new curriculum hadn't read the document, said Dombrowsky, but McGuinty said it's the government's job to make sure people know what changes are coming for their children's education.
"We have to slow down and get it right," he said. "This is what we need to talk to parents about; it's their comfort level that counts at the end of the day."