Toronto

Rally calls for Ontario public schools merger

About 60 people held a rally in Toronto on Monday afternoon, calling on the provincial government to merge the Catholic and public school systems.

About 60 people held a rally in Toronto on Monday afternoon, calling on the provincial government to merge the Catholic and public school systems.

The group — One School System Network — held a demonstration outside the Royal York Hotel where the Premier's education conference is being held.

They say the fact that Catholicism is the only religion to have fully government-funded schools is discriminatory to people of other faiths.

"For me as a taxpayer, I'm going to fund education, I want it to go for resources that are needed for student learning, not for resources to support one religious group," said Paula Conning, a co-ordinator with the group One School System.

The group argues religion courses should not be required, and should instead be electives at public schools.

They say merging the two systems would save taxpayers millions of dollars each year by avoiding duplication of school services.

However, those in favour of keeping the two school systems separate argue the practice has been going on for many years, and the two public school boards have successfully co-existed for decades.

They also point out children don't necessarily have to be Catholic in order to attend a Catholic public school.

Catholic education rights are guaranteed under the Constitution, and the full funding of Catholic schools was extended in 1985 to the upper grades of high school.

Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said any changes to the current system would require court proceedings.

"Our focus is on how to spend money in classrooms, not courtrooms," she said in a statement.

"We have four publicly funded systems that the Supreme Court of Canada has said have a right to exist and we are very pleased with the achievement of our students in all our classrooms."

The four publicly funding systems in Ontario are the French and English school boards under the public system, and the French and English boards under the Catholic system.

Some of the protesters said Ontario should hold a referendum on the issue.

With files from The Canadian Press