Immediate discontinuation of religious congregation and faith clubs in PDSB public schools

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Important Clarifications
• This petition is not meant to be against any particular religion, faith, creed, belief, faith club or religious practice
• The scope of the petition is limited to religious accommodation pertaining to faith clubs and religious congregations. Other individual level religious accommodations (e.g. wearing religious attire and symbols) may continue.

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We, a group of parents joined under Religion Out Of Public
Schools (ROOPS) and Mothers Against Religion in Public Schools
(MARPS), demand Tony Pontes, Director of Peel District School Board (PDSB), Janet McDougald Chair Trustee, and all the school Trustees to:

1. Immediately discontinue hosting and facilitation of religious clubs and religious congregations of ANY religion on school premises, during school business hours.

2. Students requiring accommodation for faith clubs and religious congregation needs should be accommodated either outside of public school premises or after school hours

3. Until point#1 and 2 above comes into effect. ALL religious accommodation needs should be treated as a part of school business activity. Any literature produced by the students or teacher, i.e. literature pertaining to faith clubs, religious prayers and sermons should be preserved, and made available to anyone free of charge

4. Changes to the current Religious Accommodation Policy or associated operating procedures must be stopped / frozen until item # 1 and 2 are addressed. Any changes thereafter must be communicated in writing to the parents. Any concerns should be addressed in timely manner. Parents should be given the opportunity to voice their concerns with the board directly.

5. Data Collection:  Ms. Renu Mandhane, the new chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said many public institutions are moving toward data collection.[1]  PDSB should as part of Religious Accommodation[2]  - Human Rights and Freedom of others at risk; initiate a study to gather evidence of the various types of discrimination - Direct, Systemic, Harassment, Poisoned Environment, Possible Criminal Activity, Reprisal etc. experienced by other students and parents due to the current religious congregation based accommodations e.g. faith clubs, Friday prayer since its inception.


[1] https://www.thestar.com/yourtoronto/education/2016/02/23/racial-incidents-ignored-by-york-board-families-say.html
[2] http://www.peelschools.org/trustees/boardpolicies/Documents/FINAL%20Religious%20Accommodation%20COMS8.pdf#search=religious%20accommodation%20policy

Petitioner Information


Religion Out Of Public Schools (ROOPS) and Mothers Against
Religion in Public Schools (MARPS)
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/religionoutofpublicschools
Email address: Speak4Education@gmail.com
(Send all inquiries to above email address)

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION

Current Situation

The Peel District School Board (PDSB) operates 253 schools, out of which 215 Elementary and 38 secondary schools with over 153,000 students. There are 12 publicly elected trustees for a 4 year term, with current term ending in Nov 2018 [3]. Under PDSB Religious Accommodation Policy, the middle and high schools hosts religious congregations and faith clubs on school premises during school hours. These provisions are administered under Religious Accommodation Operating Procedure. PDSB’s position is that these accommodations are offered under the mandate of the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), which requires organizations offer religious accommodation until the point of undue hardship.[4] A point to note in this case is while OHRC requires that religious accommodations be offered, it does not prescribe how. It is left to organization’s judgement of undue hardship.

Background


PDSB middle and high schools host predominantly one faith club which is the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Friday Prayer congregation (also called Jummah Prayer or Khutba) on the school premises..
Friday Prayers consist of a congregational prayer activity followed by a sermon (a discourse or exhibition on a religious or moral subject, especially one given during the religious service and based on religious scripture [5]). Previously sermons needed approval of school principal’s office before it’s read in the prayers.
In late fall 2016, to streamline the administrative overhead, PDSB, after months of work with 5 local Imams came up with six pre-written sermons (called banked sermons) that students should use. The banked sermons didn’t require any pre-approval by school. The prayers would still be supervised by a teacher, preferably a Muslim teacher.

PDSB tried to implement the banked sermon change, which came across a large protest from the Muslim community. There were delegations made by other Muslim imams, lawyers, parents and students which forced the PDSB director to put hold on the change.


On Jan 10, 2017, PDSB officially announced retraction of the banked sermons change, and also abolished requirement of preapproval of sermons altogether. The new Friday Prayers operating procedure4 allows Muslim students to write their own sermons, which should be in English; however, the verses can be in Arabic. The verses won’t be translated or need additional approval.

The Issue


1. Visible Segregation – Faith clubs and religious congregation requires students to gather in groups or assemblies at one place under religious pretext. Some prayers are followed by religious sermons read by a student. Sometimes the prayers are offered in an open space i.e. cafeteria (because of large # of students), which is visible to other non-participating students. This clearly creates visible segregation which is against the board values of secularity and inclusion5

2. Unsolicited exposure to religion– Students not availing religious accommodations, not participating in religious congregations, not subscribing to that particular religious ideology comes under unsolicited exposure to religious practices on school premises. Tolerance for and learning about religions across the world is one thing and something we support, but creating an environment that potentially allows unnecessary, unsolicited exposure of religious practices to students not subscribing to that particular religion without parental consent is unacceptable. These are minors, and as parents we reserve the right to restrict the direct and indirect influences of other religious practices on our children on school premises.


3. Gender Segregation - Some religious practices e.g. Friday Prayers, that faith mandates gender segregation during prayer, for it to occur on school premises during school hours exposes the remaining school students to the same prejudice, bias and discrimination associated with gender segregation. This gender segregation practice is against the way the school / education systems works - school boards instill gender equality unconditionally among children. Children work together collaboratively on school work/assignments, participate in school trips together etc. this allowance of gender segregation opens the window to question these practices and we are seeing anecdotal evidence on this already. This is against our very core Canadian belief documented in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As adults and part of this society we strongly condemn your decision to exposure our children to gender segregation and want it eliminated.


4. Unconscious Bias -  Minor children (age 11-17) are vulnerable and have impressionable minds. Every child has a distinct upbringing at home, and may or may not belong to any faith. Prayers conducted could be visible and noticeable, which can form unnecessary direct or indirect influences or impressions on minor children’s minds that are not in line with the religious thinking or practice of the child and their families. Moreover, the sermons contain religious verses, which are neither translated in English nor the meaning / interpretation is assessed. It may contain sensitive interpretation which may negatively influence the praying students. This exposure may create subconscious bias in the minds of impressionable children for or against a faith and it will manifest itself into the day to day peer interactions among students. This does not align with the vision, mission and values of PDSB and neither does it align with our opinions as adults within the community.

5. Bullying - Intentional and unintentional bullying is on the rise, but is not reported due to fear of reprisal by other classmates. Most parents with valid concerns are scared to complain to the school as they fear they may be called “racist” or "biased" or even in cases where such complaints have been made, the teachers or staff try to pass is of as kids silliness.

6. Impact on studies - Students ejecting out of the running class, can create disturbance, inconvenience, disruption or discontinuation of class. Schools with large number of students observing prayers will have greater impact.

7. Administration overhead to Tax Payers - Religious accommodation on school premises entail high costs to the board in terms of special staffing (i.e. PDSB staff of the Faith forward committee), supervision of sermons, prayers and activities of student run faith association / clubs. Additionally, it impacts school schedule which may require repetition of class teachings / group work impacting curriculum of the school.

8. Adverse impact on school environment / Unintentional Intolerance - Religious gatherings can quickly develop a group mentality among participants. School environments are supposed to nurture integration between students of different walks of life, culture, faith and descent, this acceptance, integration and tolerance can be adversely impacted because of religious congregations. This may create unintentional intolerance (biases of which people are unaware) amongst children. This does not align with the vision, mission and values of PDSB.

About Us


Religion Out Of Public Schools (ROOPS) and Mothers Against Religion in Public Schools (MARPS) are Open Groups (referred as group) formed by concerned parents of the public school students, that have come together for a common cause and share certain core values and principles.

This group is not affiliated to any political, religious, not- for-profit, government or professional organization, although we may support or seek support from one of the above as the need arises.

Members of the group are free to affiliate themselves with any organization and the group does not as such restrict membership based on any affiliations individual members may have.

Mission of the Group:
Strive to keep religion, religious practices and influence of any faith group out of tax-payer funded public schooling system in Canada.

Vision of the Group:
Help our children attain high-quality education in public schools while eliminating the role and influence of religion and various faiths from our school system by working diligently with school boards, community members and various government departments in a democratic and civilized manner.

Core Values:

  •  Education: Focus on improving education for our children in Canada
  •  Responsible: Function in a lawful manner
  •  Respect: Respect for our institutions and community members
  •  Listen: Recognize the views and rights of all stakeholders
  •  Peace and Harmony: Will not promote or support hate or violence against any group or individuals
  •  Our Right: Exercise our democratic rights including freedom to protest, petition and express views

Methods and Means:

We will engage various organizations, individuals and community at large to build consensus around our view on the issue at hand

We will engage directly with school boards and government institutions.

  •  We will use media, main stream and social, to get our views and concerns heard
  •  We will adopt various methods, including direct mails, mobile text messages, radio and social media to spread awareness and share information with patrons and community.
  •  The Group may not share, support or subscribe to some of the views of individual members and as such will not be responsible for comments or statements such members make in public or through social media.
  •  Only statements or posts made by the Group reflect our values and support our mission.
  •  The group will nominate spokespersons who will be the voice of the group.

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/religionoutofpublicschools
Email address: Speak4Education@gmail.com


Closing

We believe that the mandate of Public Schools is to provide exceptional education, teaching strong academics, enhanced with creative expression such as music, drama, arts etc. to nurture rational, out of the box and independent thinking in a secular environment. Introduction of religion, faith clubs and rituals on school premises conflicts with secular values and principles, which can adversely impact young, impressionable student minds. This petition is an attempt to bring the focus of schooling back to its primary purpose

[3] www.pdsbschools.org

[4] http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-preventing-discrimination-based-creed

[5] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sermon



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