BY: KATHY MCDONALD
“Duppy know who to frighten”. This Jamaican saying refers to bullies or people that try to push the boundaries but stop when they know that they are going to be held accountable. April 13th the Peel District School Board (PDSB), conducted its first meeting of 2017 that was not disrupted by hate or islamophobic insults. At the PDSB we have introduced new security measures as the campaign of hate was escalating and safety for all became a great concern. For the last five months, it was truly disheartening to see the effects of hate and fear orchestrated by manipulative individuals with ulterior motives. It was great to see the overwhelming support and show of solidarity from the various Union and Federation groups attending the board meeting in record numbers. To all of them, I say a big THANK YOU.
As a Trustee of the PDSB, I, like all school board trustees are bound by some basic ground rules, a code of conduct, an ethical duty. Working together with my eleven colleagues I have a fiduciary responsibility to be prepared for meetings and read all documents pertaining to PDSB matters in the agenda; govern the provision of curriculum, facilities, human and financial resources and establish policies; set budgets; as well as advocate for parents and my community and explain the policies and decisions of the Board and collaborate with all levels of government and community organizations to help ensure student success. Above all of these duties, I must uphold the laws of the land and The Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC).
The deliberate effort of individuals, most of whom have ulterior motives, to intentionally mislead the public is mind boggling. However, we as a public, after listening to a variety of opinions have a duty to research the facts. After doing this we could hopefully come to a logical conclusion or understanding. The PDSB will not tolerate or entertain campaigns of hate that discriminate against anyone based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality or faith.
All school boards are required to provide religious accommodations as per the OHRC and the Ministry of Education’s 2009 Provincial Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy. In fact, religious accommodations have been occurring in Peel schools for over fifteen years through an established process. During the 2016-17 school year, the procedure was updated. This operational issue came before the Board of Trustees in November 2016 and since then a great brouhaha ensued. There is sometimes a fine line between governance and operations as it pertains to the role as a Trustee and it is in those murky areas as a trustee we have to tread carefully. The Director of Education, the Boards one employee leads the over 19,000 employees including those responsible for establishing and updating the religious accommodation protocol.
Yes I know we have over 4,000 religions in the world and over 100,00 students but religious accommodations are based solely on the requirements of faith and provided to the best of the Board’s ability. The request is carefully reviewed by the school and must comply with the Education Act as well as the OHRC.” The duty to accommodate is about more than providing the most appropriate accommodation in the circumstances. It is also about engaging in a meaningful, good-faith process to assess need and find appropriate solutions. Failing to carry out either component may be discriminatory.”
No one group is getting preferential treatment. Various accommodations have been granted. For example, Sikhs can carry the kirpan to school, Diwali is a school-wide celebration, Christmas and all major faith days are acknowledged and prayer rooms or spaces are available to all who wish to use them. There are a lot of Christian and other religious clubs. One may argue: “Well why was the Lord’s prayer taken out?” The Lord’s Prayer was previously recited by all students, including those that did not practice that faith. The PDSB, “despite being a secular institution does not compare one religion with the other we simply make accommodations based on faith.” In fact, any school Board that receives public funding has a duty to provide religious accommodations to students or staff when requested.
Friday prayers do not negatively impact any student learning. There is no cost or undue hardship in providing accommodation for Friday Prayer. “These prayers are supervised but the Board cannot interfere with the practice of the faith”. When consulting with the principals of schools that have been accommodating Friday Prayers they have not had any issues with the process or the students. There is nothing clandestine about a group of Peel students praying on a Friday.
The PDSB Religious Accommodation facts sheet has all this information and more. Most of the facts presented in my column come straight from this document. All this information and more can be found on our website at www.peelschools.org or visit your child’s school board’s website, the Ministry of Education or the OHRC website. Remember “The Code has primacy- or takes precedence – over all other provincial laws in Ontario. Where a law conflicts with the Code, the Code will prevail.” So, journey with me as we work towards inclusion and equity for all. Remember when we are repeating any stereotype about a group of people; do some reflection and see if the stereotype about your race, religion or creed fits you. So Walk Good. Belle Marché