Ontario's Catholic schools will have to teach sex education like any other public school, despite reports that bureaucrats were willing to let Catholics develop their own watered-down version of the controversial curriculum, Premier Dalton McGuinty insisted Wednesday.
"I don't distinguish between two school systems when it comes to our curriculum," he said, almost a week after shelving the explosive sex ed program that was to include lessons on masturbation and anal sex.
"God love them, but we have a single curriculum when it comes to mathematics, when it comes to history, when it comes to world studies and when it comes to sexual education, and we'll find a way so that it suits all our children."
But some Catholic groups tell a different story. They say officials were drafting their own version of the curriculum - with the full knowledge of the Education Ministry - that would have deviated significantly from the one the province developed.
For example, homosexuality wouldn't be taught in separate schools until grades 7 and 8, instead of Grade 3.
Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky muddied the waters further Wednesday when asked whether publicly funded Catholic schools could cherry-pick from the provincial curriculum.
Catholic schools have a "denominational right" to determine how the information is provided to their students, said Dombrowsky, a former Catholic school board trustee.
"(Students) may not learn the same way," she said. "They learn the same thing perhaps in a different way."
Asked if that left the door open to teaching Catholic students that masturbation and homosexuality is wrong or sinful, the minister clammed up.
"I'm not going to speculate on what might be in the curriculum," Dombrowsky said. "That's the exercise that's underway right now."
The minister's staff later clarified that the curriculum only dictates what schools should teach, not how they teach it. That's left up to the teacher.
Catholic teachers are expected to meet the requirements of the curriculum, but approach it in a way that's in keeping with their faith. Catholic officials and bishops already oversee a program called Fully Alive that provides guidance on how the curriculum is provided, they said.
Outrage over the controversial sex ed lessons grew so loud McGuinty abruptly dropped the program last Thursday, even as his ministers were still defending it in the legislature.
Neither the premier nor the Education Ministry usually signs off on revisions to the curriculum, but McGuinty said he should have realized that sex ed is a "horse of a different colour."
"This is a very sensitive issue and I think we failed to do our job," said the Catholic premier. "So what we're going to do is take the time to do it right."
McGuinty said revisions were needed to a curriculum that hadn't been touched in a dozen years, but repeatedly refused to disclose what he thought about the sex ed changes.
He said he hadn't even seen the changes when he passionately defended them last week, and only read the passages about sex ed just before he pulled the plug. He still hasn't read the entire 206-page curriculum.
The scrapped changes included teaching Grade 1 kids to identify genitalia using terms like penis and vagina and introducing the concept of same-sex families in Grade 3. Parents, as well as conservative and religious groups, also balked at proposed lessons on masturbation, anal and oral sex and vaginal lubrication.
The controversy became a public relations nightmare for the governing Liberals and particularly McGuinty, the self-described education premier who vilified the Conservatives in 2007 over their disastrous election promise to fund religious schools.