Hands Up! Identifying Parents’ Rights in the Education System

Parents and children may face a number of challenges when seeking accommodation or recognition of faith-based concerns in the classroom. Teachers or administrators may not be sufficiently familiar with a specific faith group in order to offer students reasonable accommodation. Certain schools or school boards may be hostile or fearful of certain religious groups and their beliefs and would prefer to exclude all faith-based expressions, arguing that their place is limited to the home or place of worship.

In other circumstances, when school boards or provincial governments seek to teach about a variety of religions, there is concern that such an approach will lead to misrepresentations by insufficiently trained teachers or instruction suggesting the relativism of all beliefs. Most importantly – and sometimes lost in the commotion – these tensions, challenges and legal battles take their toll on the children.

At the time of writing, there is nation-wide discussion and debate on this very issue. In Ontario, the Health and Physical Education Curriculum for grades 1-8 which was scheduled for implementation in September 2010 was pulled because of parental concern. The curriculum included sexual content that many parents felt was either age inappropriate or morally wrong.

In Québec, a new Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum has been mandated across the province’s public school system. Though many who participated in the preparation of the curriculum hoped it would present various religious beliefs in an even-handed way, others are concerned that it will teach children that all religious beliefs are relative, and none are true. 

In Alberta, amendments made by Bill 44 to the Alberta Human Rights Act came into effect in September 2010. The amendments give parents the right to be notified if any potentially offensive material, as determined by the parents, will be taught to their children. If uncomfortable with the material, parents may exempt their children from attending those classes.

The purpose of this guide is to draw attention to these challenges while informing parents, children and the government of their rights and responsibilities.