Finding Common Ground on Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum |

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Finding Common Ground on Ontario’s Health and Physical Education Curriculum

Friday, January 11, 2019 - 15:05
Chris Markham, Ophea's Executive Director and C.E.O.

As you may be aware a legal challenge was heard by the Ontario Superior Court on January 9/10, 2019 related to the decision to repeal the 2015 elementary Health and Physical Education (H&PE) curriculum and revert back to the curriculum taught in 2014 (which included learning expectations from 1998 related to “sex-ed”) and is referred to as the 2018 curriculum.

The legal challenge was brought forward by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), Ophea also provided an affidavit as a provincial subject association for H&PE. We have followed the challenge, heard what lawyers for both the government of Ontario and ETFO/CCLA had to say (some of which can be found in the factum) and we have reasons to be optimistic!

On Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity:

The 2015 H&PE curriculum was designed so that every student could see themselves reflected and many advocates saw the decision by this government to revert to the curriculum taught in 2014 as a step backwards in terms of human rights. Through this challenge the government clarified that:

  • The H&PE curriculum must be implemented in an inclusive way and reflect the diversity of the student population and the population of the province, including LGBTQ2S+ students. 

On Teacher Responsibilities:

With the repeal of the 2015 H&PE curriculum, the establishment of the government “tip line” and direction from school boards that educators should be complying with school board and provincial polices on equity and inclusion, teachers have been confused. Through this legal challenge the government has clarified that:

  • The curriculum is not a script for teachers to recite, or a list of mandatory or prohibited words. 
  • H&PE expectations are designed so that teachers have substantial discretion in deciding how to teach them and reflect students’ strengths and abilities.
  • They expect teachers to align with the Human Rights Code, the anti-discrimination and anti-bullying provisions of the Education Act, and the many provincial and school board policies in place to ensure that schools are safe, inclusive, and accepting environments. 
  • Teachers can choose, in the exercise of their professional judgment, how to design classroom programs to achieve the expectations in each grade, and how to implement those programs for a diverse class of individual students, all of whom will have their own individual strengths and abilities. 

Addressing Health Topics:

The 2015 H&PE curriculum provided additional detail to support teachers in delivering the curriculum. This curriculum was structured so that students developed the skills and learned factual information before they reached an age where they were likely to need the information related to their health and well-being. With the repeal of the 2015 curriculum many teachers were unsure if certain health topics could be addressed if they were raised by students or if they were not identified within the 2018 curriculum. Out of the legal challenge the government has clarified that:

  • Teachers are free to discuss matters and answer questions that relate to topics taught in higher grades. In fact the government has acknowledged that to some extent, this may be inevitable, as some of the expectations overlap across grades. 
  • On the issue of the lack of detail within the 2018 (1998) curriculum, which is less explicit than the 2015 curriculum, the government has said teachers are free to answer questions and address topics that are not expressly referred to in the curriculum document in the course of teaching the curriculum. 
  • The government has stated that this may mean using the 2015 H&PE curriculum in addition to tools like Ophea’s lesson plans as support tools. 

Bottom Line:

The government has provided much needed clarity around teaching the H&PE curriculum.

  • Teachers have the responsibility to ensure that H&PE programming is reflective of the student population, and to teach the curriculum in an inclusive way that reflects diversity, including LGBTQ2S+. 
  • Teachers have the flexibility to exercise their professional judgement to design their classroom H&PE programs to meet expectations, and to discuss matters and answer questions that may not be in the 2018 curriculum document.
  • Ophea expects that as the government works to update the H&PE curriculum for 2019 that we will see these statements reflected in a current, up-to-date curriculum that provides students with the knowledge and skills they need to make informed choices about their health and well-being.

Ophea Supports:

Ophea has a long history of advocating for healthy, active living policies and strategies that foster healthy, active living. Ophea is also a provincial subject association for Health and Physical Education and we are passionate about supporting the effective implementation of H&PE. Ophea is here to support you with curriculum and classroom supports including lesson plans and teaching tools that align with curriculum. Visit for access to tools, resources, and professional learning opportunities.