A southern Manitoba elementary school has come under fire for allowing a Christian Bible program to be offered without following provincial rules.
St. François Xavier Community School had been offering Discovery Time, a series of Bible classes run by Child Evangelism Fellowship, without passing a bylaw to do so, which runs afoul of Manitoba's Public Schools Act.
Under the act, religious instruction can only be offered in public schools if at least 25 parents sign a petition to the local school board to have it included, and the board passes a bylaw to authorize it.
But there has been no bylaw at the St. François Xavier school for at least the past two years, angering parents like Pedro Bedard, who found a flyer for Discovery Time in his seven-year-old daughter's lunch bag.
"I was very surprised and a little shocked," he said.
"If they are going to have a religion class, then they should be teaching all of the religions," he added.
Bedard filed a complaint with the school and with the education minister's office.
'We made a mistake,' official says
Education officials reminded the Prairie Rose School Division to follow the rules laid out in the Public Schools Act.
"We made a mistake. The school missed a step," said Bruce Wood, the superintendant at Prairie Rose.
"We apologized to the family that was concerned about it," he added.
For now, the Discovery Time classes are not being offered at St. François Xavier Community School.
The community of St. François Xavier is located about 30 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
A Manitoba lawyer who challenged mandatory prayer in classrooms when he was a high-school student said the province should be monitoring what's going on in public schools.
Chris Tait said people should not be coerced into religion during school hours.
"I think it'd be preferable to have it outside of the school entirely," Tait said.
"Quite often, where we see these types of activities being promoted, it's in communities where Christianity is already quite dominant."
Mandatory prayer in school was struck down in Manitoba in the early 1990s.