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General Secretary Sharon O’Halloran
Photo by Kathryn Gaitens
Article

Looking Back with Pride and Forward with Determination

Sharon O’Halloran

ETFO’s 20th anniversary is an opportunity to look back on our remarkable legacy as an organization. Since our formation in 1998, we have worked tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of our members and our students and made important gains for our members through collective bargaining. For those who do not know this history, we have recently updated our history book It’s Elementary, which is available through shopETFO; the most recent chapter, chronicling ETFO’s second decade, is accessible through the ETFO website. A companion video is available on the ETFO provincial YouTube page. Understanding our history as an organization and as part of broader social movements is essential as we chart our way forward in the face of an unpredictable government that has already demonstrated both a disregard for marginalized communities and a lack of understanding of Ontario education.

ETFO and other progressive organizations are facing a number of challenges with this government, including cuts to the communities we teach in and destructive interventions in the education system. One of these is the elimination of the 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum. We have joined others opposing the decision to revert to the 1998 Health and Physical Education Curriculum. The repeal of the 2015 curriculum is irresponsible, discriminatory and jeopardizes the safety of the students we teach. Since Premier Doug Ford announced the policy, an unprecedented coalition of educators, parents, community groups, medical professionals, faith groups and legal advocacy groups has called on the government to continue the use of the 2015 curriculum and prepare students for the world of 2018, not the vastly different world of 1998.

ETFO strongly denounces the government’s decision regarding the sex education curriculum and advises all members to continue to exercise their professional judgement when it comes to teaching the 2015 curriculum. Educators have fundamental responsibilities and obligations towards their students, including the duty to ensure their safety and their fundamental human rights. The right of LGBTQ students and their families to a safe and caring school environment is a particular concern.

Educators’ professional obligations are enshrined within the Education Act and the Standards of Practice of the Ontario College of Teachers and cannot be taken lightly. The government’s actions are in direct conflict with teachers’ fundamental professional and pedagogical obligations as well as the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On August 23, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and an Ontario family launched legal action to keep classrooms free of censorship, discrimination, stigma and degradation. There are three main grounds for the legal challenge to the rollback of the 2015 sex-education curriculum: the action violates equality rights and security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; it is discriminatory and contrary to the Human Rights Code; and it contravenes the Education Act, which requires the province to create an inclusive and positive school environment.

ETFO has also filed legal action to challenge the government’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum policy. ETFO legal counsel has intervened in a proceeding presently before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to support an application brought by a student and parents to challenge the government’s actions.

ETFO has appealed to all school boards to join in this action by supporting teachers who demonstrate care and concern for their students. Virtually all English-language public school boards have come forward to share concerns about the government’s policy or to refuse outright to abandon their obligations under the Education Act and the Human Rights Code. We will vigorously defend members who continue to follow the 2015 Health Curriculum and will pursue all options to respond appropriately to this government’s reckless behaviour.

Cuts to marginalized communities and destructive interventions in the education system negatively affect our students and our schools. Many members have begun this school year feeling the uncertainty that the Ford government has created. Rest assured that we will continue to provide support and work tirelessly on behalf of members and their classrooms. In the fall, we are partnering with a collaborative intersectional research project on the issue of violence in the classroom. We will also be developing our strategy to educate on anti-Black racism and will continue the important equity and social justice work that is fundamental to who we are as a union.

– Sharon O’Halloran

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