Vancouver Sun

FAITH- BASED SCHOOLS

A pro­vin­cial elec­tion can­di­date’s sug­ges­tion that On­tario do what B. C. has been do­ing well for 30 years — fi­nance in­de­pen­dent re­li­gious schools — has cre­ated a con­tro­versy not seen here

- BY JANET ST­EF­FEN­HAGEN

An elec­tion prom­ise of pub­lic money for all faith­based schools has cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal firestorm in On­tario, but fund­ing for re­li­gious and other in­de­pen­dent schools has been the stan­dard in B. C. for three decades.

Whether Catholic, Jewish, evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian, Mus­lim, Sikh — even a Mor­mon off­shoot prac­tic­ing polygamy — all groups with schools in B. C. have the right to par­tial gov­ern­ment fund­ing to pro­mote their own re­li­gious, cul­tural, philo­soph­i­cal or ped­a­gog­i­cal views in the class­room.

B. C. gov­ern­ments have long held that such fund­ing is in keep­ing with the Cana­dian Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms and the Uni­ver­sal Dec­la­ra­tion of Hu­man Rights.

The rules are sim­ple: Schools may not teach racial or eth­nic su­pe­ri­or­ity, re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance or vi­o­lence and they must de­liver the B. C. cur­ricu­lum if they want fund­ing.

Of the 360 in­de­pen­dent schools in B. C., only 19 have es­chewed pub­lic fund­ing, while 13 aren’t el­i­gi­ble be­cause they cater mainly to in­ter­na­tional stu­dents.

In­de­pen­dent schools are free to sup­ple­ment the cur­ricu­lum as they see fit. The Van­cou­ver He­brew Academy, for ex­am­ple, teaches the He­brew lan­guage, as well as Jewish laws, cul­ture and his­tory; the Dasmesh Pun­jabi School in Ab­bots­ford teaches the Pun­jabi lan­guage and Sikh stud­ies; the Iqra Mus­lim School in Sur­rey teaches the Ara­bic lan­guage and Is­lamic stud­ies.

Most also teach a re­li­gious view of cre­ation along­side re­quired units on evo­lu­tion in science class. Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian schools, the fastest grow­ing of all in­de­pen­dent schools in B. C., tell stu­dents “ phys­i­cal and liv­ing things are cre­ated by God and not merely na­ture, en­vi­ron­ment or nat­u­ral re­sources.”

The gov­ern­ment of­fice that reg­u­lates in­de­pen­dent schools has been dom­i­nated for more than a decade by evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, in­clud­ing an in­spec­tor who wrote and sold text­books cham­pi­oning cre­ation­ism over evo­lu­tion.

Only Catholic schools funded

In On­tario, Con­ser­va­tive leader John Tory had to run for cover af­ter sug­gest­ing re­li­gious schools might teach cre­ation­ism un­der his con­tro­ver­sial $ 400- mil­lion pro­posal to ex­tend fund­ing to all faith- based schools.

Only Catholic schools in On­tario are pub­licly funded through an ar­range­ment dat­ing from Con­fed­er­a­tion.

Tory, who hopes to oust Dal­ton McGuinty’s Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in the Oct. 10 pro­vin­cial elec­tion, had to is­sue a clar­i­fi­ca­tion hours later promis­ing any men­tion of cre­ation­ism would be re­stricted to re­li­gious classes.

Tory has said it’s a mat­ter of fair­ness to treat all reli­gions the same, but McGuinty ar­gues fund­ing for all faith- based schools would frag­ment so­ci­ety and drain money from pub­lic schools. The is­sue has dom­i­nated the cam­paign, with polls sug­gest­ing seven in 10 vot­ers op­pose the plan.

Un­like On­tario, there has been lit­tle con­tro­versy about the fund­ing of B. C.’ s faith- based schools, ex­cept in two cases: the al­most $ 1 mil­lion in tax­pay­ers’ money spent each year on schools in the polyg­a­mous com­mu­nity of Boun­ti­ful, and a sim­i­lar amount that’s given to Khalsa school in Sur­rey de­spite its highly pub­li­cized links to ter­ror­ists.

An is­sue that threat­ened to ex­plode last year was a deal B. C. signed to settle a hu­man- rights com­plaint, which in­cluded a prom­ise to make all K- 12 cur­ricu­lum gay friendly. Many re­li­gious groups were up­set, how­ever, those with in­de­pen­dent schools were qui­etly as­sured by gov­ern­ment that any changes would not af­fect them.

The main ob­jec­tions to the prin­ci­ple of in­de­pen­dent school fund­ing come from the B. C. Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion ( BCTF) and the Cana­dian Union of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees ( CUPE), which rep­re­sents some 25,000 work­ers in pub­lic schools.

“ We have a pretty heart­felt, ide­al­is­tic com­mit­ment to pub­lic ed­u­cat i o n ,” BCTF pres­i­dent Irene Lanzinger said in an in­ter­view. “ If you want some­thing other than that, you should pay for it your­self.”

The BCTF usu­ally di­rects its crit­i­cism at elite schools with hefty tu­ition fees and en­trance ex­ams, but those are few in num­ber. The vast ma­jor­ity of in­de­pen­dent schools in B. C. are faith- based, al­though there are also some Montes­sori, Wal­dorf, French, first na­tions and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion schools.

En­rol­ments in in­de­pen­dent schools have been grow­ing by an av­er­age of two per cent each year for five years, de­spite a steady de­cline in the num­ber of B. C. school- aged chil­dren over­all. More than 10 per cent of all stu­dents— some 66,000 chil­dren — are en­rolled in in­de­pen­dent schools, and in a few ur­ban dis­tricts that per­cent­age is al­most dou­bled. In­de­pen­dent schools are busy with con­struc­tion while pub­lic dis­tricts have closed 150 schools in five years.

The BCTF and CUPE say gov­ern­ment sup­port for in­de­pen­dent schools is part of a dan­ger­ous trend to­wards pri­va­ti­za­tion.

“ We [ have seen] the ero­sion of pub­lic school fund­ing and an in­flux of funds and stu­dents into private schools,” CUPE pres­i­dent Barry O’Neill said in an e- mail to The Van­cou­ver Sun.

“ This is par­tic­u­larly wor­ri­some at a time, like we are in now, where we face de­clin­ing stu­dent num­bers.

“ On­tario has an op­por­tu­nity to main­tain an in­te­grated and di­verse pu­bic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. Our ad­vice is to hold the line on more fund­ing for in­de­pen­dent schools and not go the way of B. C.”

In­de­pen­dent schools in B. C. are el­i­gi­ble for 50 per cent of an­nual op­er­at­ing grants to pub­lic schools, but they re­ceive no cap­i­tal cost al­lowance. Gov­ern­ment ar­gues that end­ing such fund­ing would prompt in­de­pen­dent schools to raise tu­ition, which would force many of those stu­dents back into the pub­lic sys­tem and up ed­u­ca­tion costs by half a bil­lion dol­lars.

Last year, B. C. gave $ 211 mil­lion to in­de­pen­dent schools, in­clud­ing first­time grants to help them ed­u­cate spe­cial needs stu­dents. Since their al­lot­ment is cal­cu­lated as a per­cent­age of per- pupil grants to pub­lic schools, it rises as pub­lic school en­rol­ments fall. It also goes up ev­ery time pub­lic school unions ne­go­ti­ate a salary in­crease.

His­to­rian Jean Bar­man, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about B. C.’ s in­de­pen­dent schools, said apart from union protests, there have been few com­plaints about in­de­pen­dent school fund­ing in B. C. and she is sur­prised by the On­tario out­cry, es­pe­cially given that one group of re­li­gious schools — Catholic — al­ready re­ceives pub­lic money.

“ There’s this no­tion, which the BCTF sub­scribes to . . . and has been played up big time in On­tario, that we have this com­mon school ex­pe­ri­ence. But of course it doesn’t ex­ist,” she said in an in­ter­view.

Harro Van Brum­me­len, ed­u­ca­tion dean at Trin­ity West­ern Univer­sity in Lan­g­ley, says even stu­dents in pub­lic schools have sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent ed­u­ca­tional ex­pe­ri­ences.

“ Schools in west Van­cou­ver tend to be quite dif­fer­ent from the ones in east Van­cou­ver, even though they get the same amount of fund­ing.”

Van Brum­me­len dis­putes the con­tention re­li­gious schools and schools with dif­fer­ent philoso­phies pro­mote in­tol­er­ance. Like other sup­port­ers, he says the suc­cess of in­de­pen­dent schools is most ob­vi­ous in the Nether­lands, where more than twothirds of stu­dents at­tend private schools “ and it’s one of the most tol­er­ant so­ci­eties in the world.”

At Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, ed­u­ca­tion dean Paul Shaker takes an­other view of the is­sue. He says pub­lic schools in the West­ern world are ex­pected to pro­mote shared so­ci­etal val­ues, but that’s not nec­es­sar­ily the case with in­de­pen­dent schools.

“ When we pro­mote peo­ple opt­ing out of pub­lic schools, we’re in­tro­duc­ing new ide­olo­gies — in force — to our chil­dren. We can do that as a so­ci­ety if we want to, but I don’t think we should be naive about it,” he said. “ Where will they learn the val­ues and prac­tices that are at the heart of our sec­u­lar, demo­cratic so­ci­ety?”

Shaker says the Boun­ti­ful schools are an ex­am­ple of how B. C.’ s pol­icy can be abused.

While pub­lic fund­ing of Boun­ti­ful schools has brought the sys­tem into ques­tion like never be­fore, the Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent School As­so­ci­a­tions says the prob­lem is an en­trenched so­cial con­di­tion in the com­mu­nity, not the schools. Fred Herfst, the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said the schools have reg­u­larly passed gov­ern­ment in­spec­tions.

The Boun­ti­ful schools ex­isted be­fore gov­ern­ment fund­ing was avail­able and are un­likely to fold if pub­lic money were to van­ish, Herfst said. With­draw­ing pub­lic funds could make the sit­u­a­tion worse for stu­dents, he added, be­cause “ you would no longer have an in­spec­tor with the right to go into those schools to see what’s go­ing on.”

In­de­pen­dent school ad­vo­cates sug­gest the Boun­ti­ful schools are far from the norm.

At the Iqra Is­lamic school, prin­ci­pal Faisal Ali says stu­dents are not iso­lated from so­ci­ety, even though they at­tend a Mus­lim school. They read news­pa­pers, watch television, visit pub­lic li­braries, play com­mu­nity sports, mix with other chil­dren af­ter school, and have sev­eral nonMus­lim teach­ers, he noted.

“ They are very much in the main­stream and they are very much a part of the fab­ric of the Cana­dian mo­saic,” he said in an in­ter­view at the K- 8 school that has 352 stu­dents.

B. C.’ s first private school was founded in 1858, but in­de­pen­dent schools were few in num­ber and weren’t a po­lit­i­cal force un­til af­ter the Sec­ond World War, when Dutch Calvin­ists set­tled in the Fraser Val­ley with the ex­pec­ta­tion they would give their chil­dren a re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion in gov­ern­ment- funded schools.

In her book about the de­vel­op­ment of in­de­pen­dent schools, De­pri­va­tiz­ing Private Ed­u­ca­tion: the Bri­tish Columbia Ex­pe­ri­ence, Bar­man said the Dutch Calvin­ists, aided by U. S. mis­sion­ar­ies, be­gan push­ing for recog­ni­tion and later joined with Catholic schools and strug­gling elite schools to form the Fed­er­a­tion of In­de­pen­dent School As­so­ci­a­tions ( FISA) in 1966.

Led by Gerry Ens­ing, of the So­ci­ety of Chris­tian Schools of B. C., FISA hired a pub­lic re­la­tions firm and be­gan lob­by­ing ag­gres­sively for gov­ern­ment fund­ing. They gained that right in 1977 and fund­ing was ex­panded to 50 per cent in 1989. Since then, FISA has been re­garded as a key stake­holder in the B. C. ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, al­though it has main­tained a low- profile.

There have also been close ties be­tween the as­so­ci­a­tion and the in­de­pen­dent school in­spec­tor in Vic­to­ria. So close that Bar­man once wrote some in­spec­tors have sounded “ more like an apol­o­gist for the private schools than their in­spec­tor.”

In an in­ter­view this week, she sug­gested that hasn’t changed. “ In­spec­tors are sym­pa­thetic to private schools. They’re not go­ing to go in and read the riot act.”

Evan­gel­i­cal in­spec­tors

Gov­ern­ments have ap­pointed a string of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians as in­spec­tors and deputy in­spec­tors. Af­ter his cam­paign for gov­ern­ment fund­ing, Ens­ing went to work for the in­de­pen­dent schools branch in 1985 and was pro­moted to in­spec­tor.

When he re­tired in 1998, he was re­placed by Jim Beeke, prin­ci­pal at Ti­mothy Chris­tian school in Chilli­wack and au­thor of a Bi­ble doc­trines se­ries for chil­dren, teens and adults.

Beeke left gov­ern­ment in 2005 to be­come the agent for two B. C.- cer­ti­fied schools in China. His suc­ces­sor, Susan Pen­ner, was pre­vi­ously prin­ci­pal at White Rock Chris­tian Academy, her deputy, Ed Van­der­boom, was prin­ci­pal at Credo Chris­tian high school in Lan­g­ley, and her as­sis­tant deputy in­spec­tor, Theo Van­deweg, was also a prin­ci­pal at Ti­mothy.

Bar­man said the of­fice has been dom­i­nated by Chris­tian in­spec­tors at a time of ex­cep­tional growth among Chris­tian schools in B. C. but added: “ I don’t pre­tend to un­der­stand it.”

Asked what im­pact evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians have had on the of­fice, Herfst replied: “ Ab­so­lutely none.”

FISA’s will­ing­ness to ac­cept par­tial fund­ing rather than push­ing for full fund­ing may have saved B. C. from an On­tario- style scrap. An­other im­por­tant dif­fer­ence be­tween B. C. and On­tario is the role of Catholic schools. Since they had no con­sti­tu­tional en­ti­tle­ments in B. C., they aligned them­selves with other re­li­gious groups and strength­ened the lobby.

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 ?? GLENN BAGLO/ VAN­COU­VER SUN ?? He­daya Saadi ( left) and Aalia Rahguzar take Ara­bic and Is­lamic stud­ies with 350 other stu­dents at Iqra Is­lamic school in Sur­rey. Prin­ci­pal Faisal Ali says they are not iso­lated from so­ci­ety.
GLENN BAGLO/ VAN­COU­VER SUN He­daya Saadi ( left) and Aalia Rahguzar take Ara­bic and Is­lamic stud­ies with 350 other stu­dents at Iqra Is­lamic school in Sur­rey. Prin­ci­pal Faisal Ali says they are not iso­lated from so­ci­ety.
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