School boards best placed to decide on prayer: McGuinty
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says schools, with input from their communities, are best equipped to answer the controversial question of how to accommodate students' religious beliefs and practices.
The premier's comments come as a handful of faith-based groups say they will picket Toronto District School Board headquarters next week.
The groups, which include the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the Canadian Hindu Advocacy and the Christian Heritage Group, are upset that a middle school in the city's north end has provided Muslim students cafeteria space for a weekly prayer service, saying the board showed favouritism to Islam.
McGuinty told reporters Tuesday that school boards, drawing on advice from parents themselves, can reach their own solutions on the controversial issue of faith in school.
McGuinty says schools can make the call on accommodating students' religious beliefs tailored to each school's individual situation.
The premier's remarks echo those of opposition parties, who say school boards can handle the matter on their own.
"I count on school boards to work in consultation with their school communities, talking to parents in particular, to strike the kinds of accommodation that they think are reasonable and supportable," McGuinty said while touring a Goodrich landing gear plant in Oakville, Ont.
"So when it comes to faith matters I have faith in school boards, I have faith in schools themselves to make judgments that they think are appropriate in their particular circumstances."
Valley Park Middle School opened up cafeteria space for the Friday service three years ago after it noticed Muslim students who left to attend midday services at a nearby mosque often failed to return to classes.
The prayer session is led by a local imam. The cost of the service, available for the more than 300 Muslim students at the school, is paid for by the Muslim community.
The Toronto school board has defended Valley Park's decision, noting that schools have a duty to accommodate students' religious beliefs under the Ontario Human Rights Code.