A number of conservative Christian and Muslim parents — unusual political bedfellows — suddenly are asking schools across the GTA to notify them when their child’s class will discuss topics ranging from homosexuality and birth control to wizardry, evolution and “environmental worship,” so they can withhold their child from classes that contradict their religious beliefs.
They are giving schools the same five-page “Traditional Values Letter” used by a Greek Orthodox father who has sued the Hamilton school board for refusing to warn him when his children’s teachers plan to talk about family, marriage or human sexuality. Hamilton dentist Dr. Steve Tourloukis said Monday he only wants those issues taught to his Grade 1 daughter and Grade 4 son “from a Christian perspective.”
“I’m not an extremist, but I must ensure that my children abstain from certain activities that may include lessons which promote views contrary to our faith,” said Tourloukis, who is supported by a group called the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund. “We know other denominations like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims are excused for certain activities. Does our being Christian disqualify us from equitable treatment?”
Just days after Ontario’s new school anti-bullying law, Bill 13, took effect — promoting acceptance of all types of diversity — some parents of conservative Christian and Muslim backgrounds began presenting letters to public elementary schools in Toronto, Peel, York and Durham regions asking to be notified before their children’s class discusses a topic on a list the parent has checked off.
Word of the letters, while few in number, has set off alarms across a province-wide network of school equity officers. Its founder, Chris D’souza, warned that “any attack on Ontario’s move forward to an inclusive school system is a concern.”
As well as being notified about lessons on sex education, sexual orientation and evolution, the form letter, available on some Christian and Muslim parent websites, also lets parents ask for a warning if a teacher plans to “place environmental concerns above the value of our Muslim (or Christian) principles and human life.”
“We do agree with many of the goals of conservation, however these principles are often presented from a humanistic world view (for the benefit of man) or a naturalistic world view (deifying the earth) which is in conflict with our teachings,” notes the letter. “Conservation would be more successful for our children if connected to their understanding of being respectful of their Creator’s creation.”
Government sources say Ontario parents can request their child be excused only from certain portions of sex education.
The letter was penned by PEACE (Public Education Advocates for Christian Equity) Hamilton, a Christian parent group led by Phil Lees, also head of Ontario’s Family Coalition Party. PEACE Hamilton is helping to raise an estimated $65,000 for Tourloukis’ lawsuit, said Lees, and has posted a blank copy of the Traditional Values Letter for parents to download from its website. Parents simply insert the name of their faith, into the same letter.
“If we’re really a public education system, we need to be pluralistic and embrace values that go beyond the humanistic approach of Ontario schools that’s based on the belief there is no spiritual being,” said Lees. The former teacher has visited several Muslim parent groups to offer tips on how to try to sidestep school equity policy, including the Seerah School group in Toronto’s largely Muslim Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood.
“Muslim parents are very serious about their children, and a majority of them want to live a pious life,” noted Seerah founder Jawed Anwar, who said he believes at least 100 parents have given the letter to schools. “Bill 13 is a punch in their face.”
While school boards ponder how to respond, Ontario’s minister of education says the inclusive approach of Ontario’s school system is here to stay.
“These competing rights can be complex issues, but one reason educators from around the world study our system is because our schools are safe places for everyone,” Laurel Broten said.
“A little person can draw a picture of her two moms or two dads, for example, and feel safe and accepted. That’s what happens in classes across Ontario and that’s what should happen.”