Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Religious Diversity and Inclusion: Policy and Accommodation Practices in British Columbia's Secular School System

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Religious Diversity and Inclusion: Policy and Accommodation Practices in British Columbia's Secular School System

Article excerpt

Introduction

In Canadian multiethnic public schools of the 21st century, managing religious diversity may be controversial. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) guarantees fundamental freedoms of conscience and religion, as well as thought, belief, and opinion. However, the interpretation of such freedoms, and the extent of accommodation within the context of secular public schools, is not always clear (Shariff, 2006). This lack of clarity may lead to tension between "recognizing religious differences, respecting individual rights, and maintaining the social continuity of the Canadian society" (Maxwell, Waddington, Donough, Cormier, & Schwimmer, 2012). Manifestations of religious beliefs and practices have spurred controversies in some Canadian provinces and in several European countries over the extent to which such manifestations should or should not be accommodated in secular public schools. The "Headscarf Affair" in France and Quebec, where female Muslim students were suspended from their public schools for wearing the hijab (Amiraux, 2009; Ruitenberg, 2008; Ciceri, 1999; McAndrew & Page, 1996), the ban on the Sikh kirpan in Quebec (Multani v. Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys [2006]), and the controversy about the Crucifix and teachers wearing headscarves in Germany (Schreiner, 2004) are all examples of how religious accommodation in secular public education may be in certain contexts highly controversial, particularly in light of the different interpretations of the term "secular" itself (Bauberot & Milot, 2011; Benson, 2000). Some countries, like France, have closed interpretations of secularism in which expression of religious identity is not accepted in schools (Milot & Estivalezes, 2008); while others have more open interpretations of secularism. In India and Canada for example, all religions are equally valued (Metha & Pantham, 2006; Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 1982). However, in some Canadian provinces such as Quebec, the debate around reasonable accommodation and the adoption of a Charte de la laicite put forward by the Parti Quebecois shows a much more volatile position to open secularism.

Addressing the inherent tension of "vivre ensemble" in public secular schools is nowhere more difficult to manage than within the curriculum itself. Tensions around curriculum are the result of competing interests between the family and the state (Clarke, 2010) over what should be learned by students, and to what extent the curriculum's content should accommodate and/or reflect students' religious values, beliefs, and/or worldviews. The school system, as a moral education system that contains "rules and maxims that prescribes to individuals' ways of behaving in different situations" (Durkheim, 1925/1961), must strive to ensure that different cultural or religious values among learners do not impede their participation in school, their achievement of prescribed learning outcomes, or their capacity to become contributing members of society, in addition to respecting their sense of identity and their freedom of conscience and religion.

We explore such decision making in the context of the present-day public school system in BC, with district administrators from three different metropolitan school boards. Earlier research indicated that most school administrators deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis (Jacquet, 2007). However, the absence of specific guidelines from school districts designed to support decisions at the school level often contributed to a lack of coherence from one school to another. In addition, unplanned or ethical decisions are most often dealt with at the higher hierarchical level (March & Simon, 1964). Thus, district administrators would be more prone to deal with frequent and explosive issues, unresolved at the school level. This exploratory research aims to respond to the following questions: What types of issues related to religious diversity in schools do administrators encounter? …

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