Health and Phys Ed confusion

My reflections after the Special School Board Meeting on Monday, August 20.

Most of us know the basics—at least what’s been said in the news—the new provincial government in power at Queen’s Park has decided that the Health and Phys Ed curriculum put in place by the previous government in 2015 needs to be rewritten and re-released following more consultation with parents, teachers, etc.

But, while that happens, the new government decided that rather than follow the 2015 curriculum, students would be taught the using 1998 Health and Physical Education curriculum instead. Right now – this September. Understandably, this has left people—notably teachers and staff—pretty confused.

As of Monday night, the Waterloo Region District School hadn’t received direction from the Ministry of Education what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to teach a curriculum that hasn’t been used in years and a curriculum that doesn’t and can’t account for many of the realities of today.

A few concerns from people who presented at a Special Meeting of the WRDSB on Monday about the 1998 curriculum or the government’s decision:

  • It doesn’t address online safety, cyber-bullying, texting (again, 1998 vs 2015 is a big gap)
  • It doesn’t adequately address consent and other social issues of today
  • It doesn’t mention LGBTQ persons, or those with other gender identities
  • Some felt the amount of misinformation and omission is harmful
  • Someone else pointed out that the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum is still on the ministry of education website ( which adds to confusion)

The fact is that we haven’t heard anything from the government on how teachers should apply a 20 year old document to today.

I was hoping that the school board and the general public would have gotten some idea before now, with the start of school just around the corner, what that would look like.

Again, as of Monday’s meeting, nothing official has been sent to the WRDSB from the Ministry of Education. No direction. We’ve heard things like, “Some elements from 2015 will still be taught.” Then the government says it’s a flat out repeal of 2015 without exception, or they waffle a bit both ways. It’s confusing!

Whatever your opinion on certain aspects of the 2015 curriculum, I don’t think anyone can reasonably disagree that applying something from 1998 to today would be largely out of date. There is a lot that just wasn’t addressed back then and which can’t be ignored today.

WRDSB trustees debated a motion by Trustee Millar which would have directed staff to “maintain the 2015 health and physical education curriculum until the government revisions to the curriculum are completed.”

However, in my view, the problem with that motion is that it’s not within trustees ability to direct staff to do that. And it sets the school board directly against the province, which is not where it should be.

While I disagreed with the wording of Trustee Millar’s motion, I wholeheartedly support the spirit of it. In my mind, what the government has done is left everyone in the dark needlessly. And there’s no question that the 1998 curriculum is too vague for 2018 and leaves out things that should not be ignored.

In the end the board passed two motions on the issue, both brought by Chair McMillan:

  1. A statement of support for staff, safe spaces for students and their identities
  2. To request that the Ontario Public School Board’s Association lobby the Ministry of Education on the WRDSB’s behalf, asking that the 2015 curriculum be maintained.

In the absence of any official direction from the Minister of Education, it makes sense to think, “We’ll do this until we get some idea what’s going on.” But realistically it’s not for trustees to say to staff, “Ignore the Ministry of Education and do XYZ.”

In my opinion, McMillan’s first motion expresses support for staff and students. Which is important and was top of everyone’s mind on Monday. The second motion essentially says the WRDSB would like to use the 2015 curriculum. But it’s not heavy-handed, it calls upon OPSBA to express WRDSB’s wishes and is unlikely to lead to a fight with the Ministry of Education that I think the board be on the losing side of.

I think the majority of trustees approved of Millar’s motion. Again, I agree with it myself. But it’s not up to trustees to give that sort of direction to staff. As important as this issue is, people have to remember what the role of a trustee is and what the role of the school board is.

Neither has a role in telling the provincial government or the Minister of Education what to do.

It’s difficult, especially given the subject, and the fact that there’s an election in October, to not do something that’s seen as more concrete. But regardless of my personal feelings, I feel it’s reckless for trustees to forget their role, and it’s disingenuous and dangerous for candidates running for election to say they’d support something that they can’t actually do or that would hurt the board.

Personally what I think the government could have done, given how close the new school year is, is left the 2015 curriculum in place and started consultations. If the provincial government is set on revising the 2015 curriculum (as the premier has stated), then I think that parents, teachers, students, everyone should have a say in those revisions. We also heard that on Monday.

But scrapping the most recent and relevant document for something that’s two decades old? And on the heels of a new school year? That doesn’t make sense to me. No wonder people are confused and nervous.

I encourage anyone in Kitchener with questions, comments and concerns regarding the health and physical education curriculum to reach out to their Member of Provincial Parliament. Tell them what you think, how you feel, and what is important to you.

Amy Fee (Kitchener South—Hespeler)

Catherine Fife (Waterloo)

Mike Harris, Jr (Kitchener—Conestoga)

Laura Mae Lindo (Kitchener Centre)

Please contact me and let me know your feelings too!