Friday prayer service at school necessary for Muslim students: board

Friday prayer service at school necessary for Muslim students: board Kristin Rushowy
The Toronto public board should have held public consultations before allowing a school cafeteria to be the site of Friday afternoon prayer services for Muslim students, says an education professor.

'These things should have been debated,' said Sarfaroz Niyozov of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. 'These question of how far or how much schools should be accommodating — the parameters of accommodation — needs to be discussed.'

One Hindu group has said it will protest outside Valley Park Middle School starting this fall until the practice is abolished. Niyozov said there may also be differing views among Muslims themselves as to how to handle Friday prayers. “This raises questions that policy-makers, scholars and those responsible for (the school board) should be taking into consideration before even making a decision.”

Toronto’s public school board says it was approached by a group of parents at Valley Park school, at Don Mills Rd. and Overlea Blvd., about allowing students to take part in Friday prayers at the school, bringing in an imam, instead of them trekking to a nearby mosque.

Board spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said the sheer number of students leaving the school — some 300 to 400 out of 1,200 — was a factor in the decision, as well as the amount of class time they lost making the trip. Safety was also a concern...
Critics have raised questions not just about religious services in a public school, but also about how boys and girls are separated at Valley Park during the service — with girls in the back, behind a divider — or that girls who are menstruating sit on the sidelines and not take part.

Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky was not available for comment, but just last year the ministry implemented an inclusive policy, based on the Ontario Human Rights Code. Jim Spyropoulos, the board’s superintendent of inclusive schools, said each school will come up with its own solution to best fit student needs.

As for religious practices that raise questions of gender equity, he said 'because prayer is not conducted under the auspices of the board, we don’t have the right to tell people how to pray.'