French group ques­tions On­tario Catholic-school ad­mis­sions

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - NEWS - CARO­LINE ALPHONSO ED­U­CA­TION RE­PORTER

As­so­ci­a­tion calls on prov­ince to mon­i­tor how many stu­dents at re­li­gious fran­co­phone in­sti­tu­tions ad­here to a dif­fer­ent faith

On­tario’s French-lan­guage pub­lic school dis­tricts are call­ing on the provin­cial gov­ern­ment to doc­u­ment the num­ber of non-Catholics en­rolling in fran­co­phone sep­a­rate schools and en­force con­sis­tent ad­mis­sion re­quire­ments.

“Why does an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem cre­ated to pro­tect the Catholic faith ac­cept stu­dents who do not ad­here to this re­li­gion?” the As­so­ci­a­tion des con­seils sco­laires des écoles publiques de l’On­tario (ACÉPO) asked in a news re­lease on Wed­nes­day.

ACÉPO’s state­ments come in re­sponse to a Globe and Mail anal­y­sis this week that revealed that in some English Catholic school boards, more than a quar­ter of el­e­men­tary-school stu­dents and their par­ents or guardians did not have a bap­tismal cer­tifi­cate. The prov­ince’s three largest boards, in the Greater Toronto Area, stand alone among 29 Catholic boards as the only ones with poli­cies that deny en­rol­ment to stu­dents with­out a bap­tismal cer­tifi­cate.

The anal­y­sis of the school dis­tricts that pro­vided full data for the past four aca­demic years showed Catholic boards had a grad­ual in­crease, year over year, in stu­dents who were non-Catholic, or of an un­known re­li­gious iden­tity, at­tend­ing their schools. The num­ber of non-Catholic stu­dents reached al­most 11,000 last year, an 18-per-cent in­crease in the past four years, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures ob­tained through Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quests.

The Globe did not re­quest in­for­ma­tion from the prov­ince’s French-lan­guage Catholic school dis­tricts. But De­nis Char­trand, ACÉPO chair, said on Wed­nes­day that his as­so­ci­a­tion was aware of schools, es­pe­cially in Toronto and Ot­tawa, that ad­mit a num­ber of non-Catholics.

He said that he in­for­mally raised the is­sue with the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion sev­eral times, but was told that the prov­ince, along with Saskatchewan and Al­berta, still con­sti­tu­tion­ally re­quire fund­ing for Catholic schools. (New­found­land and Labrador and Que­bec ob­tained con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments to re­place their faith-based school boards with lin­guis­tic, sec­u­lar ones in the 1990s.)

“The de­mo­graph­ics of our prov­ince are chang­ing and its pop­u­la­tion is be­com­ing more di­verse,” ACÉPO said in its re­lease. “If the trend is to wel­come stu­dents, re­gard­less of their be­lief, in Catholic schools, it is time to re­visit our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem for more eq­uity.”

Jean Lemay, chair of the As­so­ci­a­tion franco-on­tari­enne des con­seils sco­laires catholiques (AFOCSC), said the cri­te­ria of ad­mit­ting el­e­men­tary stu­dents is strict: they have to ap­pear be­fore an ad­mis­sion com­mit­tee; fam­i­lies have to change their prop­erty tax des­ig­na­tions; and stu­dents have to agree to take part in re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties and classes at the school. Asked if French-lan­guage schools have many non-Catholics, he re­sponded: “Not re­ally.”

At a news con­fer­ence on Wed­nes­day, Premier Kath­leen Wynne did not di­rectly ad­dress the rise of non-Catholics at­tend­ing Catholic el­e­men­tary schools and said boards have the abil­ity to de­ter­mine their own ad­mis­sion poli­cies. (Catholic high schools have had to ad­mit all stu­dents since the prov­ince be­gan fund­ing them in the late 1980s, but el­e­men­tary schools can still turn non-Catholics away.)

She also said that school boards should not be spend­ing mil­lions in pub­lic money to lure stu­dents.

Charles Pas­cal, a for­mer On­tario deputy ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter and a pro­fes­sor at the On­tario In­sti­tute for Stud­ies in Ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Toronto, said that re­cruit­ment ef­forts by boards using pub­lic money “is sim­ply the lat­est rea­son why the time is well past for end­ing pub­lic sup­port for pri­vately held re­li­gious be­liefs.”

He added: “It is far more than sav­ing money, it is about the na­ture of a so­ci­ety with di­verse faiths. … What­ever one’s be­liefs, it makes no pub­lic-pol­icy sense in 2018 to con­tinue pro­vid­ing pub­lic dol­lars to fund schools based on one re­li­gion. Hope­fully, a gov­ern­ment will come along to have the courage to fol­low Que­bec and New­found­land.”

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