The Toronto District School Board Lied About Muslim Prayers – The Community Has Complained

The TDSB lied when the stated they had not received complaints about the Islamic prayer rituals they have allowed in public schools. Unless of course you don’t count the author of the following e-mail, a retired TDSB Teacher, as a member of the “community”. 

With regard to parent complaints made directly to Valley Park Middle School , I direct you to the e-mail that started it all: “And there are a number of other incidents involving Islam and other anti-Christian issues that I complained about…”

And who can forget:  The TDSB says they received no complaints until “the arrangement” was highlighted by a “Right Wing” internet blogger!

Dear Xxxx

“I fully support your protest against the TDSB and, while neither Jewish, Hindu or Christian, I plan to attend on Monday.

Watching your video of the news conference, I noticed you had some question about how “the story broke.” I don’t know about the story, but I can tell you I spent the better part of the past year writing on this issue to the TDSB, all the trustees including those newly elected in November, my MPP, the Premier, the Ministry of Education, the media, and to other miscellaneous groups and individuals I thought might share my concern. Just about no one replied. Deafening silence.

Below is the message I sent, lightly tweaked for the various recipients. So you can see that the issue had been raised, contrary to the claims that no one had complained, but officials were ignoring it.

Sincerely,

Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxx”

The e-mail:

ALLOWING STUDENTS TO LEAVE CLASS FOR PRAYERS IS CONTRARY TO THE EDUCATION ACT

To: Bruce Davis, Chair, Toronto District School Board Trustees, Toronto District School Board
Irene Atkinson, Nadia Bello, Chris Bolton, John Campbell, Sheila Cary-Meagher, Shaun Chen, Michael Coteau, Gary Crawford, Cathy Dandy, Gerri Gershon, Howard Goodman, Scott Harrison, John Hastings, Josh Matlow, James Pasternak, Stephnie Payne, Maria Rodrigues, Mari Rutka, Chris Tonks, Sheila Ward, Soo Wong, Gorick Ng, Fan Wu
Christopher Spence, Director, Toronto District School Board

From: Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxx

Date: August 4, 2010

I am concerned that a number of TDSB principals are violating the principle of secular education in Ontario by allowing Muslim students to leave classes for Friday prayers during class time. While the intentions of those principals are undoubtedly good in trying to create a welcoming atmosphere in the school, being inclusive and multicultural and helping retain students who otherwise might wish to attend different schools, their method is wrong; in fact, it is a violation of Ministry policy and the law. It stands in need of being corrected. I ask that a directive be sent to TDSB principals as soon as possible, preferably before the beginning of classes in September, to bring the practice to an end.

For example, I have seen how it has become the regular practice at Jarvis Collegiate, where I was a teacher, to allow 100-150 Muslim students to be excused from classes for twenty-five minutes every Friday afternoon to gather in the cafeteria for prayers. My understanding is that something similar is done in other schools. It should not be happening.

THE PRINCIPLE OF SECULAR SCHOOLS

The Education Act states unequivocally that “a board shall not permit any person to conduct religious exercises or to provide instruction that includes indoctrination in a particular religion or religious belief in a school.” R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 298, s. 29 (1), Religion in Schools.

See http://www.elaws.gov.on.ca/html/regs/english/elaws_regs_900298_e.htm#BK23. That statement seems clear enough on its own.

Some background on the development of the place of religion in the Ontario education system is outlined in Education, Religion, and the Courts in Ontario,
Greg M. Dickinson, University of Western Ontario, and W. Rod Dolmage, University of Regina, Canadian Journal of Education 21, 4 (1996): 363–383, http://www.csse.ca/CJE/Articles/FullText/CJE21-4/CJE21-4-Dickinson.pdf, which describes various court cases spelling out how the principle of secular education should be applied in Ontario schools. In one crucial court case the Ontario Court of Appeal stated the following (italics as in original): The school’s approach to religion is one of instruction, not one of indoctrination.

The school may sponsor the study of religion, but may not sponsor the practice of religion. One could hardly imagine a clearer case of a school sponsoring “the practice of religion” than students being allowed to leave the classroom to meet for prayers in the school during class time.

See the Ministry of Education’s Policy/Program Memorandum No. 112 Education
About Religion in the Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,
(http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/curricul/religion/religioe.html)

NOT JUSTIFIABLE ON THE GROUNDS OF RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION

Is the practice perhaps justified under the policy of “religious accommodation”? No.

The TDSB has published its own “prayer timetable” for Muslims in the document Guidelines and Procedures for the Accommodation of Religious
Requirements, Practices, and Observances,” http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=15&menuid=7102&pageid=6198
and http://www.tdsb.on.ca/wwwdocuments/programs/Equity_in_Education/docs/Guidelines%20and%20Procedures.pdf.

The daily prayer schedule for Muslims in Appendix I, p. 22.

The TDSB prayer timetable states the following:
The purpose of the timetable is to “help schools assist students and staff when they request prayer accommodation for noon and afternoon prayer.” “Early afternoon prayer times often fall within the lunch period. Students can use all or part of their lunchtime for prayers.”  “When prayer obligations occur during class time, students should be allowed time for prayer.”
Yet a careful look at the timetable shows that there are only one or two days per year when prayer obligations occur entirely during class time. Exept for those rare occasions, Muslim students are able to say their Friday prayers outside school hours with no impact on their religious obligations. The Education Act restriction still applies.

NOT JUSTIFIABLE AS A PRINCIPAL’S PREROGATIVE

In June 2009, as a teacher at Jarvis Collegiate, I took my concerns on this issue to the principal, Ms. Elizabeth Addo-Noel. Her first response was to state that students were being released on the basis of religious accommodation. However, when we looked carefully together at the TDSB’s own calendar showing obligatory prayer times for Muslim students (see above), she agreed that the practice could not be justified as religious accommodation. When I suggested that the practice was, then, simply a “gift” to Muslim students, she smiled and stated that she would continue the practice.

But if a principal is entitled to excuse students from class time for religious practices even without reference to religious obligation, why is this “gift of time” offered only to Muslims and not to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and others? Going even further, if the grounds for releasing students from class time is to be considered simply a principal’s prerogative, then why aren’t other student groups in the school, including non-religious groups, eligible for the same gift of time  – the Amnesty International group, the environmental club, the debating club, the chess club, etc.?

In any case, there it seems clear that no principal has the right to make such a decision because of the Education Act – “a board shall not permit any person to conduct religious exercises or to provide instruction that includes indoctrination in a particular religion or religious belief in a school.”

NOT JUSTIFIABLE ON THE GROUNDS OF EQUITY

Is the practice justified on the grounds of “equity”? At a workshop on equity at Jarvis Collegiate on June 22, 2009, TDSB Equity worker Moira Wong, confirmed in answer to a direct question that, if there is no religious obligation on students to pray during school hours, then releasing students for prayers during the school day is not part of equity or religious accommodation.

The TDSB document Equity in Education in a section entitled “Limitations to Religious Accommodation” states the general principle that “Religious accommodation in the Toronto District School Board is carried out in the larger context of the secular public education system,” an apparent reference to the Education Act, which again would seem to apply. http://www.tdsb.on.ca/_site/ViewItem.asp?siteid=15&menuid=7126&pageid=6219.

SUMMARY

The good intentions of some TDSB principals have allowed a practice to develop within various TDSB schools which is clearly in violation of the Education Act.
As a teacher and concerned citizen, I ask you to direct all TDSB principals as soon as possible, preferably before the beginning of classes in September, to end the practice of allowing Muslim students to meet in the school for Friday prayers during class time.

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