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the Message Continues ... 10/118



Newsletter for June 2011


Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12




Let the students pray at school

Muslim students at Valley Park Middle School can attend a Friday afternoon prayer in the school so they don't have to miss class.
To hear some of the critics tell it, youíd think Torontoís public school system had cast aside secularism and was forcing students to attend Muslim prayers.
A group called Canadian Hindu Advocacy has launched a campaign ďto repeal brazen attempts to Islamize the Toronto District School Board.Ē
But, as is often the case, the critics are overstating the matter.
At the centre of the controversy is Valley Park Middle School near Don Mills Rd. It allows the local Muslim community to offer a Friday afternoon prayer in the school cafeteria for part of the year. They do this so that 400 students donít miss as many classes as they would if they left the school to attend prayers at the closest mosque.
The school does not run the prayer service; the community organizes it and brings in an imam. Students do not have to attend; indeed, they need a permission letter from their parents to do so.
This is a creative solution to a particular problem at Valley Park where teachers were concerned about the amount of class time students lost on Friday afternoons. Many young people, being what they are, delayed their return to school after prayers and some never made it back at all.
Schools, like workplaces, are required by the Ontario Human Rights Code to accommodate religious beliefs. In most cases, that means setting aside a quiet space to pray or allowing absences on religious days. But the large number of students affected at Valley Park prompted officials to come up with a solution that would minimize the amount of school time lost.
The school isnít putting an official stamp of approval on this or any other religious practice. Indeed, the fact that girls are relegated to the back of the room during prayers clashes with what students learn in their classes about the importance of gender equality. But thatís up to the community to sort out: if students had to troop off to the mosque for prayers, the ceremony would be no different but some would miss class.
The Friday prayer at Valley Park has been going on for three years without any apparent problems and no complaints, according to school officials. Itís a reasonable compromise worked out locally to address a local situation. Now that a national advocacy group is using the school as part of its ongoing fight against aspects of Islam it dislikes, it seems there may be an unnecessary confrontation over the issue.
But Valley Park should stay out of the fray, if it can, and stick to what it has been doing: putting the needs of its students first.









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