Home-schooler, re­li­gious groups cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about Que­bec school bill

The Western Star - - CANADA -

A Que­bec ed­u­ca­tion bill that gives the prov­ince greater pow­ers to en­force com­pul­sory school at­ten­dance is get­ting a pass­ing grade from the com­mu­ni­ties it most af­fects.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Que­bec’s Ortho­dox Jewish Com­mu­nity and a home-school­ing par­ents’ as­so­ci­a­tion say they’re cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about Bill 144, which grants Que­bec’s Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment new pow­ers to in­spect pri­vate homes or un­li­censed schools to en­sure chil­dren are re­ceiv­ing a proper ed­u­ca­tion.

The bill, which was adopted by Que­bec’s leg­is­la­ture last week, is partly a re­sponse to con­cerns over un­li­censed re­li­gious schools, which have faced ques­tions in the past about whether they’re fol­low­ing the pro­vin­cial cur­ricu­lum.

Under the new reg­u­la­tions, of­fi­cials can en­ter the in­stitu- tions to ver­ify that chil­dren who at­tend them are also get­ting a con­ven­tional ed­u­ca­tion.

They levy fines against those who don’t co- op­er­ate and track down chil­dren who don’t ap­pear to be en­rolled in a school pro­gram.

But the bill also re­quires the gov­ern­ment to cre­ate a set of stan­dards for home-school­ing, pre­pare a guide for par­ents and cre­ate an ad­vi­sory panel on home- school­ing that in­cludes par­ents.

Que­bec’s ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter said the bill gives the prov­ince the abil­ity to en­force the prov­ince’s ed­u­ca­tion laws while al­low­ing for some in­di­vid­ual choice.

“We now have a model that, yes, is flex­i­ble, but a model that is re­al­is­tic and that will work,’’ said Se­bastien Proulx.

Abra­ham Ek­stein, a mem­ber of a Jewish home- school­ing as­so­ci­a­tion, be­lieves the law does a good job of bal­anc­ing chil­dren’s rights to ed­u­ca­tion and the rights of par­ents and com­mu­ni­ties to trans­mit their cul­ture.

“The chal­lenge will be mak­ing sure it’s ap­plied in the same spirit in which it was drafted: in a way that re­spects dif­fer­ences and ac­com­mo­dates the rights and con­cerns of all in­di­vid­u­als,’’ he said in a phone in­ter­view.

In re­cent years, au­thor­i­ties have staged raids at ul­tra­Ortho­dox Jewish schools in Mon­treal that had no per­mit from the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment to op­er­ate.

As a so­lu­tion, some par­ents in the Ha­sidic com­mu­nity have taken steps to “reg­u­lar­ize’’ their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion by reg­is­ter­ing as home-school­ers with var­i­ous lo­cal school boards, Ek­stein said.

He says the sys­tem has worked ex­tremely well, es­ti­mat­ing there are now close to 1,000 Ortho­dox home- school stu­dents af­fil­i­ated with Mon­treal school boards.

Noemi Ber­lus, the pres­i­dent of a Que­bec as­so­ci­a­tion for home- based ed­u­ca­tion, says she’s “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic’’ about the bill, which she sees as a chance to “re­set the re­la­tion­ship’’ be­tween home­school­ing par­ents and the prov­ince.

She said many par­ents avoid reg­is­ter­ing their chil­dren with the prov­ince be­cause of the dif­fi­culty work­ing with cer­tain school boards, whose mem­bers dis­ap­prove of non- stan­dard forms of school­ing.

As a re­sult, it’s hard for par­ents to get ac­cess to re­sources, and even harder to get credit for a stu­dent’s out- of- class learn­ing, she said.

Many home- schooled kids, there­fore, skip the high-school diploma al­to­gether and ap­ply di­rectly to univer­si­ties, who she says are gen­er­ally much more will­ing to ac­cept al­ter­na­tive proof of aca­demic achieve­ment, such as SAT scores and on­line cour­ses.

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