No ‘mass exodus’ from Ontario schools despite threats to homeschool kids in protest of new sex ed, boards say

There’s been no “mass exodus” from Ontario public schools despite months of anecdotal reports parents are pulling their kids from class en masse over concerns about the new sex ed curriculum.

While some parents certainly are opting to homeschool their kids over concerns about the new teaching guidelines — released earlier this year and taking with the start of the school year Tuesday — the province’s largest boards say they have yet to notice an increase in either inquiries or withdrawals.

The  co-ordinators at the Peel District School Board have received a couple calls but “not anything significantly more than the kinds of call they would have dealt in the past,” said spokesperson Jeff deFreitas in an interview. “There’s not a mass exodus here.”

Peel, the province’s largest board covering bedroom communities to Toronto’s west, was one of the flash points in the sex ed debate, which saw parents across the province pull kids from school for a day or week last spring. But that has not materialized in a sudden increase in homeschooling numbers. But DeFreitas noted that class lists and enrolment figures are never final until a few weeks into the school year, so it’s still possible there will be an increase.

Peel Region also contains a lion’s share of the approximately 5,700 kids who are homeschooled in the province: about 1,000 in any given year, deFrietas said, noting that doesn’t include numbers for children in private or parochial schools.

Toronto’s public and Catholic school boards, which had several schools where hundreds of students were kept home as part of a protest against the new curriculum, have also not recorded an increase.

“There is no evidence that there has been any impact our enrolment at either the elementary or secondary level,” said John Yan with the Toronto Catholic District School Board.

“We have not seen an increase in home schooling requests and there have been no requests indicating that their decision is a result of the new revised health and physical curriculum,” said Lynsey Meilke, spokesperson for the Waterloo Region District School Board.

The Peel Catholic District School Board said it doesn’t have any data on the subject, as that’s the ministry’s responsibility, but it has had a handful of parents inquiring about homeschooling, not a flood.

The education ministry does track the number of kids being homeschooled each year. They do not yet have final figures for the last school year, but there were 5,680 children being homeschooled in 2012/13, the last year for which the data is available. In 2008/09 there were 3,502 kids being taught at home — but that increase is part of a trend that’s been documented across by the Fraser Institute.

We have not seen an increase in home schooling requests and there have been no requests indicating that their decision is a result of the new revised health and physical education curriculum

According to Deani Van Pelt, director of the Fraser Institute’s Barbara Mitchell Centre for Improvement in Education who authored the study, the spike is not entirely driven by ideology as was historically the case. She notes disability, exceptional circumstances, health issues and rural locations as some other motives for choosing to education kids at home.

Though there’s no data to suggest homeschooling has spiked, there are lots of parents in Ontario who have made that leap, including Nicki Steinhoff from London, Ontario

She made up her mind to educate her four children at home when it became clear Premier Kathleen Wynne was “not backing down” despite parental protestations. She says the new curriculum, which includes discussions of same-sex families, different gender identities and anal sex is driven by ideology and not science.


“I believe that it is complete indoctrination … than teaching fact, a fact would be there are two biological genders,” she said. “A lot of media is saying parents are against this because they don’t want their children taught sex education. We’re not against proper factual sexual health education at an appropriate age; I think that’s healthy. But I am very worried that … kids are going to get hurt.”

The mother of four, two school aged in grade 1 and senior kindergarten, is concerned the curriculum mentions anal sex, having a “sex plan” when teens are “ready” for sex, and the psychological effects of teaching about gender identity as opposed to just physical sex.

“I don’t understand how this sex ed is inclusive because it’s discriminating against a lot of families, faith and cultures and they’re calling it an inclusive sex ed,” she said, adding that as Christian, she does find some aspects run contrary to her religion.

Education Minister Liz Sandals defended the new curriculum as fact-based and comprehensive, noting dozens of experts and parent groups have signed off on its contents. She also encouraged parents worried about the contents to speak to teachers and administrators about what will be taught before making up their minds.

“The curriculum aligns with the Ontario Human Rights Code,” Sandals said. “We believe that our kids deserve accurate, up-to-date information. It is always disappointing when anyone stands in the way of providing students with access to information they need to stay safe and healthy.”

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