Potentially hundreds of Guelph students are expected to take part in a province-wide student walkout next Friday to protest changes to Ontario's sex-ed curriculum.
Students from all seven Guelph high schools will walk out of classrooms at 1 p.m. on Sept. 21, then make their way to Market Square in front of Guelph City Hall for a rally.
Organizers said they expect between 200 and 400 students to attend Friday’s event, with speakers expected to start around 1:30 p.m.
The new provincial government under Premier Doug Ford has reinstated a sex-ed curriculum that was created in 1998.
The Guelph event will also protest rollbacks in the province’s Indigenous curriculum, said Elise Kephart, who, along with fellow Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute Grade 12 student Sequoia Kim, is the local organizer.
“This is about safety,” said Kephart.
“The main thing we want to get out is that we are all for inclusion, acceptance and truth,” Kephart said.
“When it comes down to it, we all want student safety to be a priority and students to feel included and accepted in the school environment.
“Anything that endangers that is an endangerment to everyone’s safety.”
Kim said the 1998 sex ed curriculum is outdated and doesn't reflect the realities of today.
"There was no sexting back in 1998," she said as an example, adding issues of consent, LGBTQ+, sexual orientation and internet safety as just some of the issues that need to be kept current in the classroom.
Kim also said the Indigenous curriculum is also extremely important.
"It's the least we can do, educate people, in the hopes that they then act on that knowledge as we move toward reconciliation," Kim said.
It is not a protest of teachers, school or the board, Kephart pointed out.
She said organizers have tried to notify their schools and teachers so they are aware of what’s happening.
“Even if we don’t get school support or board support, the walkout will happen,” Kephart said.
The Upper Grand District School Board issued the following statement about the walkout:
“The Upper Grand DSB strongly supports student voice. This includes students expressing their viewpoint in a peaceful manner that does not include the destruction of property, the exposure of students and others to risks involving health and safety, and does not hinder the operation of our schools. We recognize that some Upper Grand students may choose to participate in the province-wide walkouts. All school administrators will follow age-appropriate procedures to monitor the situation and safety of our students, while respecting their desire to express their opinion.”
Kephart and Kim started organizing a local event after hearing of the initial walkout planned in Toronto.
Through friends and social media, the message spread across both school boards and now every high school in Guelph is planning to participate to some degree.
Kephart said a separate event is also being planned for Centre Wellington District High School in Fergus.
“Social media has been a great platform to get the message out to the other schools,” said Kephart, adding that the event’s Instagram page has over 700 followers and the event’s Facebook page is also getting lots of attention.
Mostly students will be speaking at the rally, although anyone is welcome to attend.
“We basically want to give students a platform to be heard,” Kephart said.