By Susan Zuidema, author “My Child, My Chance”
“What if, en mass, we just kept teaching the new health curriculum? They can’t discipline us all, can they?” – Ontario teacher
This in-between time is dangerous. I’m referring to the time between the repeal of the 2015 Ontario sex education curriculum and the introduction of a replacement.
Everyone can agree that the 1998 curriculum is woefully out of date. But opinions around what should “obviously” continue to be covered in the 2018-2019 school year (curriculum or no) varies based on individual convictions and beliefs.
As a group, Ontario’s teachers support the complete 2015 curriculum. Sam Hammond, representing Ontario’s public school teachers as president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) listed “Sexting, online bullying, and information about consent” as key topics. He points the finger at “a minority group of socially conservative parents (who) oppose the current curriculum, some without having seen it” suggesting that some of their concern “stems from homophobia.”
Hammond asserted that “the current curriculum addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in a meaningful and age-appropriate way.”
Many parents disagree that the curriculum handles certain sensitive topics included in its sex education in an age-appropriate manner. Some of these are mentioned by Hammond but there are a vast array of others.
Who is to decide in the 2018-2019 school year what will be actually taught? Unless Conservatives deliver a clear directive, it is going to be up to those on the front lines: the teachers. Here’s what they have to say about it.
One suggested that teachers can teach whatever they want because no one ever checks on what they are doing in their classroom.
Clearly, there remains a call to vigilance for parents with children in the public system – perhaps now more than ever. Until there is a clear directive and a replacement, teachers can use their “professional judgment” in what they teach (see also “Understanding Your Professional Judgment“, a flyer by ETFO). This includes not only topics related to sex and equity but any other topic they deem relevant. As evidenced by the discussion above, many teachers feel it is their professional obligation to teach gender theory and sexual equity and plan to continue to do so.
As a public school teacher, I used my professional judgment to regularly include a series of lessons on internet safety well before the 2015 curriculum came out. I wanted to be sure that expectations around internet use were clearly established and I felt confident that parents would agree in my decision. I notified parents we were discussing the topic and sent supporting materials home to help them carry on the discussion. My professional judgment allowed me to cover an important area I felt the curriculum was missing.
This same professional judgment is used by teachers everyday when they teach extracurricular material. In the years leading up to 2015, this already included topics of social justice and equity. Yet, it’s not limited to topics in sex ed. In My Child, My Chance, I list several examples of how sexual and gender diversity were taught prior to the 2015 curriculum, often within the language, social studies, and even math curriculum!
Another example might involve eastern meditation. In the 2017-2018 school year, my own school introduced Kundalini yoga, a school of yoga that is influenced by Shaktism and Tantra schools of Hinduism. The school rebranded the activities as “mindfulness and wellness” following my expression of concern about the religious elements.
The times, they are a-changin’.
It seems like it is becoming more and more common for children to be at odds with their biological gender. Or maybe we are just hearing about it much more often. In the not-too-distant past, there were a variety of options for a family to pursue including counseling and therapy. This was good and helpful, as it is commonly agreed that most children who experience gender dysphoria will ultimately come to identify with their biological gender. [Globe and Mail, American Psychiatric Association, ETFO] I think we can all agree that this is the best outcome for these kids.
In spite of this, the laws in Ontario have shifted once again with the passing of Bill 89, the “Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act,” putting at-risk children in a more precarious position than ever. It has been well documented that people who sustain a long-term struggle with their gender identity suffer from depression and suicidality at a rate much higher than the general population [Williams Institute]. They may also have other dismal outcomes such as a greatly heightened occurrence of HIV infection [Centre for Disease Control].
Without being able to consider any root causes for gender confusion (e.g., molestation or neglect), transitioning a child to their “felt” gender is now presented as the only acceptable, even legal, response. This completely disregards the likelihood that there may be a specific, resolvable reason why they “feel” that way! A reason that, if unresolved, will go on to cause serious issues throughout the life of the child affected.
This being said, what are the options today in Ontario for children who are struggling with gender dysphoria? Who can help?
Thanks to Bill 89, parents have their hands tied when it comes to advocating for their child to reconcile with their biological sex. If they do not support their child’s wish to transition to the opposite gender, they run the very real risk of having that child removed from their home by the Children’s Aid because this is now considered abuse. Minister of Child and Family Services Michael Coteau, who introduced Bill 89, said “I would consider that a form of abuse, when a child identifies one way and a caregiver is saying no, you need to do this differently… If it’s abuse, and if it’s within the definition, a child can be removed from that environment and placed into protection where the abuse stops.” [LifeSiteNews]
Doctors and psychologists can’t.
There are presently no legal options available to medical professionals except to support the transition of a child to their felt gender. Ontario’s Bill 77 , the “Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act 2015” made certain of this. It declared that if a child feels that his or her true gender is opposite to their physical gender, it is an offence for a medical or psychological practitioner to provide treatment that will help align that person’s felt gender to their physical gender, even if this is what he or she wants. These practitioners can only recommend gender transition as a solution, or they risk losing their medical licence.
Public school board policies are now such that a teacher cannot talk to a parent without the student’s explicit prior consent if a child expresses a desire to present as the opposite gender at school. Teachers must refer these children to their administration [see example]. Administrators refer the student to “appropriate confidential support,” for example, counselling; a sexual assault centre; Kids Help Phone; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered [LGBT] Youth Line. [Ontario Policy and Program memorandum 145]. The result is a child who unbeknownst to their parents may present as one gender at school and another at home.
At the moment, churches can.
In spite of the fact that most churches are not currently trained or prepared to help a family navigate these issues, they remain the final bastion of hope for these children – if a family is brave enough to seek this help. This means churches need to step up and get ready to answer hard questions like,
- What is your position on the best approach for children who are struggling with issues of gender?
- What advice would you give parents whose child has gender dysphoria?
- Who can you recommend in your community to help families (if your church is not equipped to do so directly)?
- How will you handle it if a child in our children’s or youth ministry says they wish to transition genders?
Churches – you need to become equipped to help families navigate these tough issues!
Blindly, immediately, allowing a child to transition socially (and possibly medically) to a felt gender, without first exploring root causes, is the height of neglect. Statistics and studies prove that this is essentially condemning a child to a lifetime of confusion, depression, and even suicidality among other horrific outcomes. And yet, this is exactly what our government has determined is going to be the only legal way to address the issue.
How have we gotten to the place as a society that there is only one approved solution to a very, very complex problem? How can we risk the very lives of our children to this cause?
Board policies around supporting transgender students set aside parents’ right to know what is going on with their child
* Post edited from the original.
Update: See LifeSite News article that ran subsequent to, and as a result of, this blog post.
Recently, I was introduced to a new public school board procedure, the Accommodations Procedure 1235: Accommodation of Persons Who Identify as Transgender. Much of what is covered didn’t really surprise me, i.e. protecting a student’s privacy concerning their gender, and showing and teaching respect for those who identify as transgender. There is some “education” around the different terms used within the trans community, and some dialogue around washrooms and change rooms (students have the right to use whichever they feel most comfortable in: a gender neutral washroom within the building, the washroom that aligns to their biological gender, or the washroom that aligns to their felt gender). All of this is expected from a document such as this.
Although I have been researching this topic for two years and thus have become somewhat acclimated to the state of dissolving parental rights, I still did not expect the policies that are now in place around communication with home. Here is what the Accommodation of Persons Who Identify as Transgender says:
Some students who identify as transgender are not openly so at home because of safety and/or other reasons. A school shall not disclose a student’s gender status to the student’s parent(s)/guardian(s) without the student’s explicit prior consent.
When school staff contacts the home of a student who identifies as transgender, the student should be consulted first to determine an appropriate way to reference the student’s gender identity. Not doing so can potentially put a student’s well-being and safety at risk (page 3).
This means that if a child chooses to identify as transgender at school then we cannot have a conversation with the parents or guardians at home about the child’s choice. Instead, we are to talk to our school administration.
Let me draw a parallel or two. In my teaching career, I have dealt with many children’s struggles. Sometimes they struggle to make friends or fit in. Some struggle to handle competition properly and it impacts their relationships. Some children struggle with a situation at home and may spend time crying under their desk or hidden in the coat rack. Learning to multiply, learning to read, learning to share… kids struggle for many, many reasons. YES teachers are most often safe, caring adults in the child’s life. I believe this is why children often choose to share their private struggles with us.
How do teachers handle this? Depending on the situation and its severity, we are very often in contact with the child’s home (i.e. parents/guardians). As professionals, we handle these conversations as delicately as I possible and when needed I myself ask for support from my administration or a special education resource teacher. In most cases, I am in contact with the home. When a child is coping with a big problem, parents are on the front lines and need to know that their child is having a significant challenge. This has backfired on me (for example, one set of parents turned the situation around and found a way to blame ME for the child’s issues … sigh …) but I stand by my position. Parents have the primary relationship with the child.
Historically, there has been one big exception: We do not call home if a child discloses abuse and we have to make a report to Family and Children’s Services (Children’s Aid Society, or CAS). In this case calling home could obviously jeopardize a child’s safety and these policies are in place to protect the child. I will tell you that if we as educators ever believe that a child’s safety at home is or has been threatened or at risk, we have a legal obligation to inform CAS.
Why is the identification of a child as transgendered (or gay/lesbian/bisexual, see Policy/Program Memorandum No. 145: Progressive Discipline and Promoting Positive Student Behaviour) another exception? As in the reporting of suspected abuse to CAS, the procedure cites “safety and/or other reasons.” What other reasons? I can tell you that a big one is the unknown factor of parents’ beliefs. What if parents disagree that transitioning is the best option for the child?
With Bill 89, the Supporting Children, Youth and Families Act, 2017 in the works, the implications of this are immense. See “Bill 89 Pushes Gender Ideology in Child Services” for an overview of the major concerns with Bill 89. First, we are not to tell parents that their child is wishing to identify as trans (because of safety concerns). Would we notify CAS because of those same perceived safety concerns? I can’t ignore the connection between these policies and the reach and impact of Bill 89.
In our recently published book, “My Child, My Chance,” we shared the following anecdote:
What would you say if your child was accused of having homophobic thoughts or behaviours and was sent to “rehabilitative” counseling by their school – without your permission or knowledge? Think this couldn’t happen? Think again.
In 2012, a couple of grade three Ontario public school students were looking at a poster in the school hallway. The poster showed two men holding hands, two women holding hands, and a man and a woman holding hands. The girls agreed together that, “When I grow up, I’m going to hold hands with a boy.” A simple statement, innocently spoken but serious enough to land the girls in a series of anti-homophobia counseling sessions without the knowledge or approval of their parents. A teacher, having overheard their dialogue, judged it to be homophobic and followed her “duty” by reporting it to her administration.*
How could the school avoid their responsibility to consult the parents before taking a serious step such as counseling? The answer lies in the details of Ontario’s Ministry of Education Policy/Program Memorandum No. 145: Progressive Discipline and Promoting Positive Student Behaviour. In this policy, children are disciplined or receive support following bullying, swearing, homophobic or racial slurs, sexist comments or jokes, graffiti, or vandalism (page 7). As well, support may be called for when a student chooses to disclose private information to a teacher.
Because of the memorandum, teachers have to advise their principals if they observe anything of this nature. Principals usually notify the parents and discuss any supports that will be provided. However, parents are not notified if “doing so would put the student at risk of harm from a parent of the student, such that notification is not in the student’s best interest” (page 9). Harm, in this memorandum, is further clarified to mean “physical, mental, emotional, and psychological” harm.
What constitutes “harm?” The term’s rather vague meaning led this particular principal to forego the call home. Physical harm is, I believe, pretty well understood and often easier to see. But what is mental, emotional, or psychological harm? Who determines what harm is or when harm occurs or could occur?…
The girls were viewing a poster and made a simple statement about their sexual identification. We can assume that along with about 97% of the population, both of these young girls identified as heterosexual… [and so] To draw a clear bottom line: To allow the expression of heterosexual preference to persist is now being defined as causing “mental, emotional, or psychological” harm to a child. (see “My Child, My Chance,” chapter 4: “Our True Identity in the Chaos of Gender” for more).
It is a very similar definition of “harm” that is being applied in the situation of transgendered students. If a parent is not supportive of a child’s desire to socially transition to another gender, the child may find socially transitioning more difficult or impossible. It is clear that the school boards are taking the position that transitioning a child is of benefit to them and that not transitioning them causes harm.
Does Transitioning Benefit a Child?
There are different levels of transition. Social transitioning is the normal starting point, where a child presents outwardly in every way as the other gender but no surgery or hormonal adjustments have yet occurred, with surgical or hormonal transition happening as the child grows. It is true that children who struggle with their gender (and their families) experience many difficulties including self-doubt, bullying, and other forms of distress. This trauma and struggle is real; I will never dispute that. However, I believe that enabling the transition of gender – while it may initially seem to be rooted in compassion – ultimately causes much more harm than good. Studies have shown this to be true. For example,
- Transitioning has not been shown to lead to long-term happiness. This is shown by suicide rates of those who medically transition to their “felt” gender remaining twenty times higher than the general population.
- Children who experiment or struggle with their gender almost always outgrow this by the time they reach adolescence – up to 98% do!
- Gender confusion may exist due to sexual or emotional abuse. Counselors have seen cases of gender confusion disappear when root causes are addressed. Not allowing a child the opportunity to explore root causes may allow past trauma to go unresolved.
I firmly believe we need to do away with the lie that children might be better off if they transition. The question then becomes: How can we help these kids in the meantime, in the middle of their struggle? Is it in their best interest to spend a season of their childhood “trying on” the opposite gender or will this – as I fear – wind up with them bearing emotional scars that could follow them for life?
As parents we know how foolish, stubborn, and misled our children can sometimes be. It is our responsibility to be the voice of reason and to speak the truth into their lives. How can we do this if we are purposefully excluded by the school from having this critical information? We must teach our children what gender confusion truly is and counteract the lies they are hearing. (See chapter 4 of “My Child, My Chance” for a detailed discussion on this topic).
I’m sure many parents, like you, are confident that you would never be unaware of a struggle as significant as this clearly is. How could you ever be unaware of the fact that your child is struggling against their very gender? And if they are, what can you do?
- Know the signs of a child who is struggling.
- If you think your child is struggling, seek help. Know that professional counselors in Ontario are only legally allowed to work with the child toward transition; any indication by a professional counselor or medical professional that there may be a root cause that needs to be addressed can lead to the forfeiture of their licence to practice (thank you, Bill 77, The Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act 2015). Your best bet for a counselor would be found by getting direction through a local church or some youth centres in your community.
- If you notice your child struggling, consider whether the public school system is a good fit for your family.
More information is available in our book, “My Child, My Chance” – now available to you after of two years of research into this very important topic.
We want to help. Contact us at any time.
* This story was related to Susan Zuidema by PEACE Ontario director Philip Lees, as shared with him by an Ontario mother and her daughter.