No Opt-Out for Gay Topics in Ontario School System?
The Ontario school system is taking steps to keep school kids in the classroom when the topic turns to gays--even if parents with religious or cultural objections seek to opt their children out of those lessons. At least, that’s what anti-gay religious Web site LifeSiteNews has reported in a Feb. 15 item.
The posting draws on a column from Ontario newspaper the Hamilton Mountain News. Anti-gay religious and social conservatives regularly attack school lessons that address issues such as comprehensive, fact-based human sexuality, bullying, legal equality, or family diversity, claiming that they "promote homosexuality."
Though the LifeSiteNews article intimates that the item, which ran Feb. 11 in the Hamilton Mountain News, is a news article, it is an op-ed piece that appears in a column called Tales from the Crypt, which is written by the paper’s managing editor, Mark Cripps.
Cripps had obtained a handout given to teachers of the Hamilton Wentworth District that gave teachers talking points when discussing the school system’s anti-discrimination policies and curriculum with parents. The policies are similar to many "safe schools" programs, which are designed to prevent racism or homophobia from creating a hostile learning environment at schools. The column includes a quote from John Malloy, who since last August has served as the education director of the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board. Said Malloy of the board’s equity policy, "It’s not about teaching something that’s contrary to what people might believe."
Malloy’s reassurance notwithstanding, Cripps implies that the policy amounts to just that, writing, "Teaching children about black history or the rights of the disabled doesn’t violate any specific religious belief," whereas, "Teaching children how to engage in safe homosexual intercourse might be uncomfortable for someone who has been taught since birth that the very act constitutes a sin according to their respective faith.
"Does the board believe faith has no value in its schools? Does the board really support the principle that parents have no rights over their child’s education?" writes Cripps. "Right or wrong, rejecting the dogma of specific faiths doesn’t seem very inclusive."
Although the handout equips teachers to engage in discussion, the op-ed piece denounces it; Cripps opines that the handout "basically indicates parents have no rights when it comes to their child’s education," going on to write, "For example, in response to the question, ’This is against our rights as parents to teach our own set of family values,’ the board is telling its teachers to respond with, ’This is not about parents rights.’ "
The handout addresses several areas of parental objection, and outlines discussions that teachers might have with parents to answer their questions or assuage their fears. The section on parental rights, for example, includes several points, all clearly outlined. "As teachers, we cannot condone children being removed from our classes when we teach about Aboriginal People. people of color, people with disabilities or gays and lesbians," reads one paragraph.
The section on Parental Rights also suggests that teachers remind concerned parents that, "You can teach your child your own values at home. Public schools teach everyone about respecting diversity and valuing everyone." Moreover, "This is not about parental rights," the handout notes. "Children have the right to an inclusive education free from discrimination."
The columnist offers a skeptical response to these points. "The board compares anti-homophobia education to teaching students about aboriginal rights," he writes. "I don’t know of any religion that has a specific doctrine on aboriginals. However, some Christians, Muslims and Jews believe homosexuality is a sin, or is forbidden according to their beliefs."
In addressing "Religious and Cultural objections," the handout cautions teachers, "Don’t enter into debates about meanings or merits of scriptural text."
When it comes to faith-based discrimination, Cripps counts himself as opposed. "My brother is gay, and I certainly appreciate the challenges he has faced," the columnist writes. "I will share this understanding with my daughter as she grows up, and ensure she understands that discrimination of any kind is not acceptable regardless of what others might say. That’s my right as a parent. I don’t expect the school to take care of that job for me.
"However, to say parents with more fundamentalist views of homosexuality have no rights when it comes to the education of their children is complicated, and can’t be brushed aside with a snappy answer sheet provided to teachers," Cripps goes on. "What happens when little Johnny learns one view at church and home, and then is told that view is unacceptable at school? It seems to me there are a lot of adults playing around with little Johnny’s brain. Who does little Johnny believe? His parents, his church or his teacher?"
The handout also addresses other common areas of concern, such as the widespread belief that classroom discussions about bullying or diversity amount to "recruitment" of children to a gay "lifestyle." "No one suddenly chooses to become lesbian or gay simply because they heard about the topic at school," the handout notes, going on to clarify that, "Anti-homophobia education at the elementary level does not include discussion about sex or sexual practices." For older students, the inclusion of fact-based discussions of safer sex are only responsible; the handout noted that, "Secondary students need accurate information about relationships and safe sex. Lack of information can have tragic consequences for youth."
Parents may also worry that their children are too young to hear about such matters in the classroom. The handout reminds parents and teachers alike that even very young children hear about sexual issues and bias at school every day--from their fellow pupils, outside of class. "Children are already learning homophobic slurs starting in the primary years," the handout notes, prompting teachers to clarify that, "My job is to make school safe and counter all name calling."
Moreover, students may have schoolmates or friends with two parents of the same gender. "All families deserve to be represented in the curriculum," the handout notes. "The mandatory provincial curriculum includes diverse family structures."
The LifeSiteNews article notes that educators in the Hamilton-Wentworth District attended training on diversity last month, which is when they received the handout. The site references Cripps as claiming that the board refuses to allow children to be opted out of classroom discussions involving gays.
The article also reports that an anti-gay group, the Hamilton-Wentworth Family Action Council (HWFAC), has tussled with the school board for years about "values." The president of HWFAC, Jim Enos, told the religious Web site that, "the obvious point [is] that parents who object will be ignored, and that the schools educate your children in their ideology whether you like it or not." When it comes to classroom content about valuing and respecting diversity, Enos sees the school board’s stance as being, " ’You can do what you want at home, we understand, but when you get to school, different matter.’ In other words, they’re saying that schools have priority rights in the education of children."
Said Enos, "That’s wrong. We are the educators of the children." The schools children attend, he said, "are an extension of us, we’re not an extension of them." Despite the school board’s stated concerns, Enos insists that classroom content that discusses homosexuality constitutes "forced indoctrination," though into what is not specified. However, Enos claims that schools "won’t give both sides of the story" when it comes to gays. "They only give good news" about gays, he says.
LifeSiteNews disclosed details about Enos’ background, including his two-year participation in the Sexual Orientation Steering Committee of the school board. Enos said that his bid to present on the health hazards associated with homosexuality was brushed aside.