Less than a week before the new school year begins, parents and activists in Ontario rallied at more than 100 Liberal MPPs' offices on Wednesday to protest the province's new sexual-education curriculum.
Changes to the Physical and Health Education curriculum were made this spring – the first update since 1998 – and brings Ontario's teachings in line with other provinces, the education minister has previously said.
Under the new curriculum, students will learn about consent, same-sex relationships, online bullying and sexting. They will also learn about masturbation, gender expression and contraception.
- Review Ontario's updated Physical and Health Education curriculum
Wednesday's Ontario-wide "day of protest" was organized by the pro-life group Campaign Life Coalition. Protesters across Ontario held signs with messages such as "Save our children" -- many of them voicing concerns that the curriculum should be introduced at a later age.
In southern Ontario, one parent told CTV Kitchener she was considering pulling her children out of the public school board, and enrolling them in a separate school instead.
"I'm going to take them out of school. I'll put them either in a Catholic school … or even home-school (them)," she said, speaking outside Kitchener-Centre MPP Daiene Vernile's office.
Other parents have also threatened to pull their children out of the classroom completely unless the new sex education curriculum is scrapped.
In Toronto, at Thorncliffe Park Public School, flyers have been posted advertising workshops that teach parents how to home-school their children. The school had one of the highest numbers of absent students in May when a similar type of protest was held in the Greater Toronto Area.
Thorncliffe Park, which serves students in Grades 1 to 5, is widely recognized as having a large Muslim population.
According to Toronto District School Board spokesperson, Ryan Bird, more than 34,700 elementary school students were absent on the first day of that Facebook-organized campaign.
But not everyone is opposed to the campaign. Some supporters who showed up at MPP offices on Wednesday said they agree changes to the curriculum were necessary.
"Society has changed. Your religious beliefs are fine. You should teach that at home and leave the rest of the teaching to the teachers," one person told CTV Toronto.
The ministry has said that the curriculum will be introduced in the fall, regardless of the backlash from parents and some school boards. It has argued that the update is long overdue, and that students can benefit from the new lessons.
The province's stance was backed by the Peel District School Board director on Wednesday, who said any requests for students to skip lessons about gay families or gender identities will not be permitted.
"Some in our community may not like this. They may choose to switch school systems, in fact. If so, that is the price we must be willing to pay," Tony Pony said in a speech at the Toronto's Pearson International Airport Convention Centre.