Group asks TDSB to end Muslim prayer sessions
Web Staff, cp24.com
Published Wednesday, July 6, 2011 1:40PM EDT
A decision to allow prayer sessions at an elementary school in Flemingdon Park is re-igniting the controversy around religion and education.
The Toronto District School Board is defending its decision to allow a Muslim service every Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Valley Park Middle School, saying it is meeting its obligation to facilitate its students' religious beliefs.
Muslim prayer sessions have been held in the school's cafeteria on a weekly basis for three years for any student who wants to take part.
School trustee Gerri Gershon told CP24 that the school and community came up with the idea so Muslim students wouldn't have to leave school grounds and miss class to attend a Friday prayer service.
About 80 to 90 per cent of the school's students are Muslim.
The TDSB said Valley Park Middle School provides the space for the prayer services, but the 30-minute sessions aren't part of its curriculum.
The prayers became an issue last Friday when the Canadian Hindu Advocacy raised objections and asked the board to put an end to the sessions.
"Our organization has received many complaints from Hindu strudents and parents in the Valley Park Middle School region," says a note sent to the TDSB by the CHA. "Accordingly, we would like to begin a discussion with TDSB authorities aimed at restoring secular education within the school system."
The CHA is also objecting to the fact that the TDSB is serving Halal meat at the school.
Observant Muslims are only allowed to eat Halal meat but the CHA says Hindus are not allowed to consume any meat.
"Our organization is determined to ensure all Hindu students are provided non-halal meat alternatives," the note says.
The CHA says they will picket Valley Park School during Friday afternoon's Islamic prayer sessions if the TDSB does not accomodate their requests.
In response, the TDSB said the prayer sessions were brought in as part of its policy on "religious accommodation."
Groups that want to make a similar arrangement are free to make a request, the TDSB said.
Valley Park Middle School is located at Overlea Boulevard and Don Mills Road, in a neighbourhood that has a high concentration of Muslim residents.
Students at the multi-cultural school represent about 50 languages.
It is believed to be the largest middle school in Canada, with 1,300 registered students.
With a report from CP24's Sue Sgambati