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Schools to stop calling six-year-olds fags

Grade 1 students across Ontario are being asked how it feels to be called a fag. The question is part of an exercise on bullying done in health class. The worksheet asks the kids how they would feel if they were “called a name; pushed, shoved, pinched, poked or hit; threatened;… called a fag.”

The exercise came to light after a parent complained that her six-year-old daughter, a student at a school in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board, was given the assignment.

“I was pretty shocked and amazed that such a document existed with that phraseology and in a Grade 1 class,” says Bruce Campbell, the board’s general manager of communications and community relations. “It was totally unnecessary. Needless to say we’ve removed that line.”

Campbell says the board will not take the opportunity to educate children about homophobia.

“I think at the Grade 1 level certainly, we don’t get into sexuality,” says Campbell. “It’s age inappropriate.”

The exercise has been in use for the past eight years. It was created by the not-for-profit Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA), working with school boards across the province, which have the option of adding it to the curriculum required by the province.

OPHEA’s executive director Chris Markham sent out an email statement.

“Considering the extensive nature of the process to develop and review the materials, the revelation of inappropriate content eight years after the release of those materials is regrettable and a situation we are committed to address,” he writes. “OPHEA has recommended to school boards that they immediately withdraw the worksheet in question from the document and will provide a revised version.”

Markham writes that the exercise is intended to address bullying in schools. But he states that OPHEA will henceforth address the issue of homophobic name-calling without mentioning homophobic names.

“We believe that the issue of name- calling is very prevalent in schools and OPHEA will work with educators to ensure such worksheets provide examples that are not deemed offensive in any school community,” he writes.

Richard Ward, an education consultant with OPHEA, says that the “fag” example will be removed completely from the Grade 1 worksheet. In Grades 7 and 8 he says “fag” will be replaced by “slur referring to his sexual orientation.”

Ward says it’s up to teachers to address homophobic name-calling.

“We do rely on the teachers,” Ward says. “We hope they use their professional judgment.”