How Ontario School Boards are Responding to Parent Concerns

In light of recent events unfolding at the Waterloo Region District School Board we’re sharing a parent’s letter of concern and response from the Toronto District School Board. The communications are in chronological order below. 

A few observations:

  1. The parent never receives a response to her direct questions about the messages being used that frames gender identity as a replacement for biological sex (and in fact, why messages are being used that devalue the concept of biological sex as an outdated and uneducated belief system about gender)
  2. The Human Rights Code is used to justify not only upholding the rights of trans-identified students at the school, but as a wedge to introduce the concept of gender identity to all students, and inculcate students in the belief that this concept of gender identity applies to everyone. 
  3. The Education Act anti-bullying section is being used to justify the imposition of an orthodoxy of gender identity that, if challenged, constitutes transphobia and gender based violence. 
  4. The stated goal to challenge gender stereotypes is not what is happening at all, and in fact, the messages used by the presenter reinforce outdated gender stereotpyes. 
  5. There is no recognition from the Board that the instruction provided to the children is overstepping the goal of creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for all students and instead, is intended to influence a child’s identity formation and reprogram how children understand themselves in terms of their gender.  
  6. There is no acknowledgement from the Board that people delivering instruction on the topic of gender (including discussions of medicalization) should be vetted by the Board and conform to clear standards and expectations that are transparent to parents.
  7. There is no recognition from the Board that parents are key stakeholders in the development of what constitutes safe and accepting schools (per Ministry of Education directives that can be found here.)  

Letter re Workshop Concerns

May 21, 2021

Dear Superintendent, 

It recently came to my attention that my 10 year old child in Grade 5 would be participating in a “Gender & Stereotype” workshop (later branded as an equity and diversity focused workshop) at school by a 3rd party organization: PFLAG. 

I’d like to first acknowledge that the Principal was helpful and responsive to my requests for information. However, it was only with significant effort and diligence on my part that I was able to discover the nature of the materials and content that would be covered in this session. Despite Ministry of Education requirements regarding parental notice and opt-out provisions, PFLAG contends their workshop “has no sex-ed content” and operates from the position that it is unnecessary to notify parents that their workshops contain material covered in ‘strand D’ of the Grade 5 and Grade 8 health curriculum. This is unacceptable as a regular form of practice, particularly for parents who have language barriers or are less well versed in the process of requesting information from the school administration. It is also unacceptable that an TDSB-approved 3rd party organization operates with such ambiguity and regards parents, not as primary educators, but rather as obstacles to be circumvented.

With regards to the nature and content of the workshops, please address the following issues and questions:

1) The PFLAG workshop includes a video entitled ‘Range of Gender Identities’. This video explains the concept of gender identity and a variety of genders on a gender spectrum. This reflects a specific expectation in the grade 8 curriculum (not grade 5) in the Physical and Health Education Guidelines – 

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/2019-health-physical-education-grades-1to8.pdf  p. 282

I was told that this programming was being delivered as part of the equity curriculum but the lesson content aligns with a Grade 8 curriculum expectation. Why is the TDSB not being transparent with parents that this workshop will be providing instruction in the concept of gender identity that is not part of the learning objectives for the children’s current grade? 

2) The concept of gender identity is becoming worrisome because it is being conflated with the scientific concept of biological sex. For example, the video used in this workshop claims “Back in your day, most people understood the world in terms of boys or girls, but now we know that gender is more complex than that”. Gender, the children explain to the elderly uncle, is “the way you feel about yourself”, and there’s a clear message that the uncle doesn’t understand gender at all. The video makes no attempt to recognize that many people do not believe that gender exists on a spectrum – this is an ideological assertion. From an evidence-based perspective, gender is not “more complex than boys or girls” because biological sex is binary. 

While it may be polite and appropriate to treat people who identify differently from their birth sex by using their preferred pronouns and name, the video (and therefore the only expectation I can deduce of the session) goes far beyond that learning objective. It asserts that there is a new and improved understanding of gender (based on the belief system of gender identity) and that it is uneducated and outdated to believe that gender is binary as defined by “boys and girls” (which devalues children’s biological sex and suggests that gender identity supersedes or somehow replaces biological sex). 

Please explain how this instruction aligns with the equity curriculum, or any other curriculum for that matter. 

3) While gender in terms of one’s biological sex is being dismissed in the video as an outdated concept, gender is instead being explained to the children as “the way you feel about yourself” and one’s “inner experience of gender”. This is being applied in a universal sense such that it would be difficult for a child to understand that only some people feel strongly that they have a gender that is different from their material reality as a boy or girl, but rather, that all children have a gender identity and for some, it aligns with their biological sex. 

Please explain how inculcating children in the belief that gender is an “inner experience” or that gender “exists on a spectrum” is not an egregious form of misinformation that can lead children to dissociate from their bodies and treat a large part of themselves – their actual physical bodies – as something to be ignored, devalued, or medically or chemically altered per the current “affirmation” approach in our healthcare system which allows young people to choose a medicalized “gender journey” based on their self-directed gender goals. 

4) PPM 119 states “School board policies must be comprehensive and must cover the prohibited grounds of discrimination set out in the Ontario Human Rights Code. The code prohibits discrimination on any of the following grounds: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, citizenship, ethnic origin, disability, creed (e.g., religion), sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, family status, and marital status.” 

What is your comprehensive school board policy with respect to this prohibited ground – sex – to ensure that instruction delivered by your Educators or 3rd parties on the topic of gender identity and/or gender expression does not introduce harmful biases or stereotypes typically associated with the sex binary of male and female (without suggesting to children that if they don’t conform to gender stereotypes that they may be a different gender identity)? 

5) PPM 119 provides for accommodation based on creed or religion. “As part of their equity and inclusive education policy and implementation plan, boards will include a religious accommodation guideline in keeping with the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of creed (e.g., religion) and imposes a duty to accommodate.” 

Please provide the policy and procedure that the school is following in determining accommodations for students in general and my child in particular for instruction related to human development and sexual health that occurs outside of ‘strand D’ of the health curriculum. 

6) The Ministry recognizes that parents are the primary educators of their children with respect to learning about values, appropriate behaviour, and ethnocultural, spiritual, and personal beliefs and traditions. Further, The Ministry has stated that teachers should follow the principle of “first, do no harm” and ensure that “students of all cultures, abilities, genders, and sexual orientations feel included and recognized in all activities and discussions”. The concept of gender identity defined in the PFLAG materials as a universal concept of personhood applied to everyone is not a matter of facts but a statement of values. This includes the philosophical/religious idea that our biology is not an important indicator of who we are. The PFLAG materials, and therefore your school board, are imposing a postmodern view of personhood in the form of gender identity which is cut off from any objective criteria (in this case, the protected ground of sex). This instruction inculcates a moral view that our bodies are disassociated from who we are as persons, as though our bodies have no intrinsic dignity or purpose that we are morally obligated to respect. 

Parents play a vital role in their children’s well-being and it’s an important principle of child safeguarding to understand how educational policy with respect to values such as these will be communicated to parents so that they can make informed decisions about whether the nature of instruction is appropriate for their child or not.  

Please identify the TDSB policies that justify the instruction of this moral view of personhood on young children and identify the TDSB policies that specify how parents will be notified of this instruction as a standard practice (or notified that this instruction may conflict with religious or personally-held beliefs about the nature of humanity and our embodied existence).

7) The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 after the horrors of the 2nd world war sets out rights to education and recognizes in Article 26 that: 

“Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

This is, in large part, to ensure that children are not subjected to political exploitation due to power structures in our society that are beyond our individual control. The assertions being made in the video and therefore in this workshop are promoting a political belief system without acknowledging this to parents. 

How do you justify the instruction of a political belief system under the guise of “equity and inclusivity” without being transparent with parents about the content of this instruction or its intent, as revealed by the video content, to replace their understanding of gender as determined by their material reality as sexed bodies to an alternative belief system? Further, how do you vet 3rd party organizations to ensure that they deliver appropriate content for this subject matter that does not advocate or promote a particular political belief system in a way that supersedes other protected human rights, namely sex?

I request your reply in writing by June 11, 2021. The TDSB has a duty to provide honest and transparent information to parents about how this programming aligns with the curriculum learning objectives for a child’s grade and explain why the presentation devalues biological sex as an outdated and uneducated concept of gender. Parents deserve to know how this is aligned with any Ontario curriculum and how your notification and accommodation policy conforms to Ministry requirements including appropriate opt-out provisions for parents of all religions/creeds and with sufficient information provided to take into consideration the language barriers of many parents at the TDSB.

Sincerely, 

Parent X

School Board Response

10 June, 2021

Hello Parent X,

Thank you for your email and I hope this response finds you and your family well. This certainly has been a year of learning we will not soon forget, and I am so thankful for the incredible efforts of all to make the very most of a challenging situation.  I am hopeful we can begin to return to some of the practices that we have had to abandon because of social distancing and safety protocols. 

I would like to share that the in-class presentation that was done by Pflag was in support of the amazing work that has been happening at __ Public School with regard to equity and inclusion. It is important to note that the workshop falls squarely within the human rights and equity curriculum and has no “sexual education” content.   The program addresses gender and sexual orientation and their definitions to make a distinction between the two and to explain what is protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The presentation also refers to a CROP poll in Canada in 2017 where 26% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 identified as LGBTQ (that’s one in four).

The Education Act sets out the Board’s responsibility for student achievement and effective stewardship of resources:

169.1 (1) Every board shall,

(a) promote student achievement and well-being;

(a.1) promote a positive school climate that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils, including pupils of any race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability;

300.0.1

1. To create schools in Ontario that are safe, inclusive, and accepting of all pupils.

2. To encourage a positive school climate and prevent inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia, transphobia or biphobia.

I would also like to point out that, aligned with the requirements of section 301 of the  Education Act,  we as staff are expected to challenge gender stereotypes and integrate trans positive content into the teaching of all subject areas in accordance with xDSB policy and procedures and provincial Legislation. Please see the attached document:  TDSB Guidelines for the Accommodation of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Students and Staff. Pg. 8

Furthermore, the TDSB Human Rights Policy (P.031) states,

Section 3.2 – Duties and Responsibilities – Teachers

The Board recognizes that preventive education and proactive practices are the best long-term strategies to achieve an inclusive learning and working environment. It is essential, therefore, that Toronto District School Board programs, curriculum, teaching methods and management practices support the values embodied in this policy.

Section 4.2 – Forms of Discrimination

Poisoned learning environments include inappropriate or non-inclusive curriculum and pedagogy, bias or discriminatory barriers in existing policies, programs, or assessment procedures, and discriminatory comments made by teachers and other employees.

You are quite right that if a teacher is planning to teach a unit of study related to the Human Development and Sexual Health expectations found in strand D of The Ontario Curriculum: Health and Physical Education, Grades 1-8, principals follow the TDSB’s policy/procedure that allows for students to be exempted, at their parent/guadian’s request. This is done by alerting families of the instruction at least 20 days before the beginning of the unit.  Exemptions forms are made available for families to complete and submit for our records. I believe this form and communication has already been shared by the principal and I encourage you to complete it if your intention is to exempt your child from this learning. Of note, TDSB procedure on this subject, PR728, clarifies that the exemption does not include topics raised outside of the Curriculum and that the Board, aligned with its commitment to equity and human rights, will continue to focus on respecting diversity, promoting inclusive education and identifying and eliminating discriminatory bias in other school programs and activities.  

The Ontario Human Rights Commission Policy on preventing discrimination because of gender identity and gender expression defines gender identity as follows, “Each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is a person’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. A person’s gender identity may be the same as or different from their birth assigned sex.” (at p. 55).

PPM 119 provides for accommodation based on creed or religion. “As part of their equity and inclusive education policy and implementation plan, boards will include a religious accommodation guideline in keeping with the Ontario Human Rights Code, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of creed (e.g., religion) and imposes a duty to accommodate.”

If you are requesting a human rights accommodation on the basis of creed or religion, please provide details regarding your religion or creed, which aspects of the curriculum conflict with your religion or creed and demonstrate why/how these are in conflict. Therefore, in considering a request for accommodation on the basis of creed, we would follow the TDSB Human Rights Policy, P031, the Equity Policy, P037 and the  OHRC Policy on Creed.

In conclusion, we have families and students in our schools who identify with one or more of the protected grounds under the Ontario  Human Rights Code.  We have a duty as educators to ensure that members of this community who have historically and systemically been oppressed and marginalized feel welcome, safe and respected.  It is our responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, those who identify with the dominant culture and those who do not. Every student counts and every family is valued and as educators we serve our communities and will continue do so through a lens of equity, inclusion and anti-oppression.

Thank you

Superintendent X

Parent follow up

June 25, 2021

Re: PFLAG Workshop concerns

Dear ___,

You’ve referenced the “amazing work” that is happening at School X with regards to equity and inclusion. I’m curious to know what metric you’ve used to define such success already. As I’ve mentioned to you on previous occasions, my own observations indicate that students are struggling with some of the concepts the school is introducing.

I was pleased to see School X staff send the government mandated health exemption form to families, although this was only after I made the request. It is my hope that staff will continue to inform parents when students are engaged in delicate discussions under the direction of the school and that they will continue to improve their efforts to be more transparent. To be clear, I do not object to my children engaging in discussions. What I find reckless is the insistence of some to present highly debated topics as one sided with no room for diversity of viewpoint.

You have not addressed a number of the concerns I raised in my previous letter. Your comments regarding PFLAG have provided me with no new insights. You have only restated information from emails that I already had from the school. It is clear we have different opinions on this matter but what we do have in common is the safety of all children. You should know that some of my concerns are shared by self-identified queer families at our school. At our last parent council meeting, concerns were raised that the PFLAG presenter was overheard making the comment “my child wore dresses so that’s how I knew they were trans”. The concern here is that a child listening to this could become confused by the reinforcement of such outdated stereotypes. The irony here is quite glaring. As you have stated, it is your responsibility to challenge gender stereotypes, not reinforce them. This is precisely why I started asking questions in the first place. Parents should be able to send their children to school without the risk of having their identities reprogrammed by sheer negligence.

At the heart of my concerns is the use of certain materials during these discussions, such as the video from the PFLAG presentation (‘Range of Gender Identities’), which instruct children to understand their gender as entirely separate from the biological reality of their sex. This is done without acknowledging that this is far from being the experience of most people. While this may be the experience of some it is certainly not for most and our children should not be left with the impression they need to go in search of this separate identity. When these ideas are introduced at such a young age and outside of the supervision of parents, it is impossible to know how this message is internalized by children. The TDSB has a responsibility to properly vet all materials and manage discussions used for children under their care.

When discussing gender and stereotypes with children, why is the focus not on the idea that there is no one way to express oneself as a boy or a girl? I fully support this but don’t see the need to entangle it with the idea that one could be “born in the wrong body” that can only be treated through the medicalization and subsequent sterilization of children’s bodies. Children should understand that they can wear whatever they want, cut their hair to suit their tastes and play with whichever toys they find interesting without anyone suggesting they embark on a medicalized gender journey, which is the standard of care given our affirmation approach to treatment. This current approach is heavily debated at the moment partly because it sees a disproportionate number of females and indigenous children seeking treatment (https://transyouthcan.ca/results/toronto-sickkids-webinar/). If we are to apply a lens of equity, shouldn’t we take a pause and consider how our efforts might be contributing to this disparity? Perhaps there is room for improvement.

If you think I’m overreacting, consider this: under the direction of a teacher, two grade 8 students were invited to parent council to give a presentation on “gender identity”. At the conclusion of the presentation, a parent asked for advice for their “non-binary” child in grade 2. The response of the grade 8 student was for the parent to consider “puberty blockers” since the child is “pre-pubescent” and eventually “chest binders, hormones and surgery”. It is my understanding that these students have since been invited to a grade 1/2 class. Since when do we allow 13yr old children to “educate” 6 & 7yr olds on such delicate matters with the potential for such harmful consequences? Is there no limit to the appropriateness of these discussions within your schools?

With all sincerity, I am asking that you think about the potential physical and psychological harm these ideas can bring to children, how quickly these discussions can extend beyond the scope of diversity and inclusion and the responsibility of the TDSB to “first, do no harm”.

The following questions are still outstanding:

Why is the TDSB not being transparent with parents that this workshop will be providing instruction in the concept of gender identity that is not part of the learning objectives for the children’s current grade?

Please explain how inculcating children in the belief that gender is an “inner experience” or that gender “exists on a spectrum” is not an egregious form of misinformation that can lead children to dissociate from their bodies and treat a large part of themselves – their actual physical bodies – as something to be ignored, devalued, or medically or chemically altered per the current “affirmation” approach in our healthcare system which allows young people to choose a medicalized “gender journey” based on their self-directed gender goals.

What is your comprehensive school board policy with respect to this prohibited ground – sex – to ensure that instruction delivered by your Educators or 3rd parties on the topic of gender identity and/or gender expression does not introduce harmful biases or stereotypes typically associated with the sex binary of male and female (without suggesting to children that if they don’t conform to gender stereotypes that they may be a different gender identity)?

How do you justify the instruction of a political belief system under the guise of “equity and inclusivity” without being transparent with parents about the content of this instruction or its intent, as revealed by the video content, to replace their understanding of gender as determined by their material reality as sexed bodies to an alternative belief system? Further, how do you vet 3rd party organizations to ensure that they deliver appropriate content for this subject matter that does not advocate or promote a particular political belief system in a way that supersedes other protected human rights, namely sex?

Regards,

Parent X

Trustee Response

The parent also wrote to her TDSB Trustee describing the situation and requesting a response to the above questions. She never received an answer.

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