Fighting for secular schools in small town Saskatchewan

Robert McMann gave us permission to share this story about challenging an attempt to insert prayers into schools by the Lloydminister Public School Board in Saskatchewan.

My story has to do with the prayer in public schools conversations, debates, rage, et al that was being discussed here around a month ago. Some of us are still dealing with it, others have managed to make some positive changes. This is an example of the latter.

At the beginning of September of this school year, the Lloydminster Public School Board (LPSD) sent home a letter citing that the Board has the option to enact what they call "Administrative Process 208" from the Saskatchewan Education Act under section 182, which covers religious teachings in schools. The letter was sent to give parents an ability to opt out their children from partaking in the Lord's Prayer being recited during the morning's opening practice. To me, opting out segregates children from the rest of the class and makes them "different".

In our city of Lloydminster, (Canada's only border city, straddling between Alberta and Saskatchewan) Facebook has become a very well used resource for communicating on-goings around town. A group of nearly 16,000 people (the city is 33,000) known as "What's Happening in Lloydminster" is by far the most popular. A parent posted an image of the letter online asking what everyone thought. An omniscient deity could not have seen the hell fire that arose from that post.

Hundreds of comments. People for, people against, people who could not care... All sorts of comments.

I, being the quiet type (insert eye roll here), spoke up. I spent literally hours invested in the thread engaging people, discussing the topic, primarily to say that a religious citation has no place in our public schools.

Yet every person for this recitation thought they had a valid argument. "Well, it never hurt anyone before. Why stop now?" Never hurt anyone before? My son last school year, who was 10 at the time, declared in front of his class during lunch hour that he was atheist (I had no influence and this was solely and 100% his decision). His class, the entire class, turned on him. He was pinned in a corner and surrounded by classmates berating and belittling him. But, no, it never hurt anyone... I digress.

Amidst the discussion in the thread, I received numerous private messages from people. Some supportive, some very much not. The supportive people ended up leading to a private group message discussion about the topic. What could we do to rectify this?

The solution was easy. We needed to reach out to the LPSD directly and press the issue. Seven parents did just that in the following days. Meanwhile, the Facebook thread was still hot and remained so for about 5 days (rare for a thread on Facebook, I know). I waited a day to make my call.

When I did, I got a direct line to the Director of Education for LPSD. A friendly and well spoken gentleman by the name of Todd Robinson. Him and I spoke for about 30 minutes on the phone about the topic. He noted that he had spoken with other concerned parents about this very issue, and in his words, "some have not been as easy to talk to about this as you". I can only imagine. At this time, he did let me know, that as Director, he had requested a meeting of the school board to review the AP. The meeting was scheduled for the next day and that he would have a follow up call for me by Friday of that week. This was Tuesday.

In the group message, we discussed what our next steps were if the decision didn't go in our favour. Who, what, where and the like on who to approach next. Then Friday came.

Mid-afternoon on the Friday my phone rang. Todd was on the other end and let me know that the board had made a decision on AP 208. Effective that afternoon, AP 208 was being rewritten! The LPSD changed their Administrative Process and would now be conducting a moment of silence as part of their daily exercises. A moment where students can choose to reflect on the day, pray should they choose, even write in a personal journal.

We did it!

I was in a store when I got the call and had to leave for fear of screaming out in joy at this news. Todd also told me that the LPSD had spent Thursday drafting a letter to send home saying the changes would begin the following Monday morning and that Friday morning was spent educating the teachers and principals of this change.

The group message folks and I that helped drive this change still talk. We are actually gearing up to approach the Education Minister of Saskatchewan to see if we can make some bigger changes. I would like to also be a part of a group who would like to take this to the next level in Alberta as well. It's time our provinces take a step forward and invoke change. Positive growth and education change. One small ripple here could lead to a wave across the board. I want all children, not just my own, to learn in a religion free environment.

Again, sorry for the wordy post, but I've wanted to share for some time now. Feel free to comment or PM me if you have any questions about this at all. Thanks, everyone.

Editor's Note: Section 182 of the Education Act, 1995 of Saskatchewan states:

Religious instruction 182

(1) Religious instruction as authorized by the board of trustees of a school district, or by the board of education of a school division that is not divided into school districts, with respect to any of the schools in its jurisdiction may be given in that school district or that school division for a period not exceeding two and one half hours per week.

(2) Where the board of education passes a resolution pursuant to subsection 180(2), the religious instruction mentioned in subsection (1) may be given in a language other than English.

(3) Subject to subsection (4), a board of trustees, or the board of education in the case of a school division that is not divided into districts, may direct that the exercises preceding the regular daily program of instruction of the school be opened by the reading or reciting, without comment or explanation, of the Lord’s Prayer or a passage selected from Bible readings that have been prescribed for the purpose by the minister.

(4) Where a parent or the guardian of a pupil so requests, the pupil is to be excused from participating in the opening exercises described in subsection (3).

(5) Where a pupil does not wish to participate in courses of religious instruction authorized pursuant to subsection (1), the pupil:

(a) with the written consent of the pupil’s parent or guardian, is exempt from attendance at those courses of religious instruction;

(b) shall be provided with suitable alternative studies appropriate to the instructional program of his or her grade.


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