Blowing whistles and waving signs, Ontario’s elementary school teachers descended on Queen’s Park to protest the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to return to a decades-old sex-ed curriculum.

Following its annual meeting at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto this morning, members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) took to the sidewalks to voice their objection to Premier Doug Ford’s divisive plan to repeal the current sex-ed curriculum introduced by the provincial Liberals in 2015 and revert to a previous version first developed in 1998.

At issue for opponents of the current lesson plan is the inclusion of topics such as same-sex marriage, gender identity and masturbation. The 2015 curriculum also addresses other concepts such as consent, cyber safety, bullying, and LGBTQ rights.

In July, Ford’s government announced it would follow through with its campaign promise to scrap the current sex-ed curriculum. In its stead, the Tories intend to revert to the 1998 lesson plan while consultations with parents and teachers are conducted throughout the province.

During the Tuesday morning meeting, ETFO leaders and Official Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath argued the Tories’ plan would compromise student safety and urged ETFO’s 60,000 members to continue teaching the current sex-ed curriculum come September.

“Doug Ford wants to drag our schools backwards, in fact, in the few weeks he’s been in power, he’s already started dragging them back,” Horwath told delegates on Tuesday. “He’s taking our curriculum back to the last century and he’s hurting Ontario’s most vulnerable youth in the process.”

Sam Hammond, the union’s president, told CTV Toronto that EFTO is prepared to do “whatever is necessary” to defend its members who defy the government’s directive in the classrooms.

“We intend to and will defend our members in any way that we need to on a go-forward basis,” he told CTV News Channel during the protest. “We are advising them to use their professional judgement, that’s enshrined in our collective agreements and ministry documents, to teach any or all parts of the 2015, the current modern curriculum.”

Hammond said that approximately a thousand of the union’s members, along with other community groups and parents, participated in the protest on Queen’s Park. He said the union would like to see the dispute resolved as soon as possible; but in the meantime, he thinks the current curriculum should stay in place.

“Don’t cause all of this chaos. Leave it in place,” he urged the Tories. “Do your consultations and we’ll move forward together.”

Tensions flare in question period

The debate also spilled over into the legislature when a heated exchange between Horwath and Ford took centre stage during the summer session’s final sitting.

Horwath slammed Ford for putting students at risk by not educating children about bullying and online safety.

In response, Ford pivoted to the topic of Ontario students’ math scores lagging behind those in other provinces.

To which Horwath responded with: “If they have been raped or bullied, math won’t matter very much to them will it?”

During the campaign, Ford vowed on numerous occasions to repeal the current sex-ed curriculum because he said parents had not been adequately consulted on it. The premier has also promised to replace the existing teaching plan with one that is “age-appropriate.”

With files from CTV Toronto and The Canadian Press