While Ontario students protested the province’s decision to roll back the sex-ed curriculum taught in elementary schools by walking out of class on Sept. 21, the demonstration at East York Collegiate Institute didn’t follow the script.
At 2 p.m., an hour past the scheduled start, the school remained still. Minutes later, students began trickling out of the halls, calling friends to meet up while they laughed and headed straight for the bus stop.
“I don’t really care. Doug Ford can do what he wants because I don’t really have a say,” said Ben Arndt, a grade 9 student at the school. “I’m a 13 year-old-kid, I’m not going to do anything.”
But at 2:45 p.m., 15 minutes before the walk-out across Ontario was over, stomping and hollering emerged.
About 30 students huddled together waving signs and shouting in unison. Quinne Kendall-Mitchell, a grade 10 student at the school, led the crowd.
“Everybody should care because everybody has a voice and right to be heard, whether you’re from the LGBTQ+ community or you’re indigenous,” she said. “The man in power, Doug Ford, is obviously wanting to go backward instead of moving forward. What’s next? I’m afraid, as a woman, I’m going to have my rights taken away.”
The rally was a response to Ontario’s decision to abandon the 2015 revised sex-ed curriculum in elementary schools, which would teach students about same-sex marriage, consent, sexting and gender identity. Instead, the province is opting to continue using the current sex-ed curriculum, last updated in 1998. The movement sprouted and grew online through hashtags like #WeTheStudentsDoNotConsent and #WalkOutForOurEducation.
Although Kendall-Mitchell was upset that staff didn’t allow students to protest inside the school, she said some teachers admitted they supported the students as they monitored the demonstration.
The school did not comment, but Ryan Bird, manager of corporate and social media relations at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), said the board did not sanction the event, but it encourages students to “express themselves in constructive, respectful and responsible ways.”
Bird said the TDSB “advised high schools not to plan any major tests or assignments so that students were not penalized academically for participating in the walkout,” but in a phone call to the school on Sept. 21 just after 12:30 p.m., a staff member in the main office said that if parents hadn’t called ahead, teachers would mark students who protested as absent, and phone home.
These students are really sticking their necks out for a good cause.
—Phil Pothen, TDSB trustee nominee for ward 16 in Beaches-East York
Grade 9 student Arndt felt that the teachers “didn’t really care” about the absences.
While teachers stayed tight-lipped, Phil Pothen, a TDSB trustee candidate for ward 16 (Beaches-East York), wanted to reassure parents that their children are doing a good thing despite the messages they might find on their answering machines.
“These students are really sticking their necks out for a good cause, they’re trying to make sure that their school is safe for everyone,” he said. “Without the new curriculum, I really feel like we’re putting our kids in danger.”