Ontario's education minister says parents who are still opposed to the province's new sex-ed curriculum being taught in public schools this year can pull their kids from class -- which is precisely what many parents at one Toronto school appear to have done.
At Thorncliffe Park, where nearly all of its Grade 1 to 5 students were pulled from class during a protest staged by parents in the spring, almost half of the school's population was absent on the first day of class, said a spokesman for the Toronto District School Board.
Complaints from parents have ranged from a lack of consultation with them, to lessons not being age-appropriate, to not wanting their kids to be taught about same-sex relationships and different gender identities.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said in addition to thousands of school council chairs, 70 health organizations and parent groups were consulted in crafting the new curriculum, which had not been updated since 1998.
"This is the most widely consulted upon curriculum in the history of the province," she said Tuesday.
"When we write curriculum...on geography or social studies or mathematics, that kind of consultation does not happen because that's not how curriculum has been historically written in the province. We felt there was a need to have a broader consultation with parents on this curriculum."
Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton, who has been a staunch opponent of the curriculum, is urging Wynne to shelve the document and start over by consulting parents.
The party's new leader, Patrick Brown, notably did not broach the issue in his statement marking the first day of school. He said last week he wants to ``make sure parents have a say on how much and when.''
Education Minister Liz Sandals urged parents who are opposed to the curriculum to first talk to teachers and principals because there is "a lot of misinformation" being circulated, but each school board does have a policy on withdrawing students from particular classes.
However, she said, the majority of the feedback she has received has been positive.
"I have never in my life been just stopped on the street by strangers so often (who) said, 'Thank you for doing this. Hang in there. We want this program.'"
In the spring Sandals suggested Conservative groups were behind some of the opposition and now there are Conservative candidates campaigning in the federal election on sex-ed opposition.
"If there's one group of people we admit we have not consulted with in a thorough sort of way, it would be federal Conservative candidates, I admit," she said.
Under the changes, Grade 3 students will learn about same-sex relationships, kids in Grades 4 and up will learn more about the dangers of online bullying, while the perils of sexting will come in Grade 7.
Lessons about puberty will move from Grade 5 to Grade 4, while masturbation and "gender expression" are mentioned in the Grade 6 curriculum.
Meanwhile, contract talks continue between the province and elementary teachers, Ontario's Francophone teachers and support workers. Elementary teachers are staging a work-to-rule campaign during which they won't plan fundraising activities or field trips or attend open houses.