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Let the students pray at school
at Valley Park
can attend a
prayer in the
school so they
don't have to
To hear some of the critics tell it, youíd think
Torontoís public school system had cast aside
secularism and was forcing students to attend
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
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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