Questions raised about prayer in schools, SD71 puts hold on faith-based volunteers
Comox Valley schools, like most schools across Canada, rely on community volunteers for non-educational activities, which allows educators to devote more time to teaching.
But the question of who monitors the activities of these volunteers to ensure they are not reaching beyond the limits of the district’s policies and procedures surfaced this week in School District 71.
Parents of children in the Cumberland Community School wrote to the school board and district administrators this week raising concerns about the activities of representatives of the Comox Valley chapter of Youth For Christ. The parents say the Youth For Christ (YFC) representatives are holding prayer sessions for Grade 8 and Grade 9 students.
In response to the Dec. 6 letter, the board and the district administration have put a hold on any further public volunteers in schools connected to faith-based groups, such as YFC, until the district can do a review to determine the next steps with the issue.
Provincial legislation prohibits religious teaching in schools.
Comox Valley School Board Chair Michelle Waite told Decafnation that the district already has several administrative procedures in place relating to this issue and that the existing procedures will also be reviewed as a result of the letter.
It is the Board of Education that sets policy while the Superintendent creates administrative procedures about how schools are to implement or follow specific board policies.
But it is the school principal that decides who from the community is allowed to interact with students and who monitors their activities to ensure they are compliant with all policies and procedures, including the BC Human Rights Code and the BC School Act.
Waite said the review will determine what has been taking place, including if there have been any prayer-type activities,
“We have heard the parents and this review will ascertain the facts. We have put a hold on YFC and other similar groups out of caution and good practice. Once we have all the information, we can decide how to move forward,” Waite said.
In addition to the two parents who wrote the letter, the school’s Parent Advisory Council has been concerned about YFC activities and raised the issue in October with the school’s principal, Erica Black, who dismissed their concerns, according to our sources.
In their letter, parents Elisabeth Lee and Troy Therrien (a newly elected Cumberland Village council member) say that Youth For Christ representatives are working with students at the Cumberland Community School. And that work includes a drop-in sports time for Grade 8 and Grade 9 students on Fridays during recess that concludes with a prayer session.
The parents say this is inappropriate because it violates the School Act, infringes on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and “contravenes SD71 board policies 17 and 24, among others.”
Lee and Therrien also say “the lack of transparency around this issue has been problematic.”
Students, their parents and families, have not been made aware that the YFC volunteer is associated with Youth For Christ or that there will be a prayer session, they say. And that school announcements about the open gym time only use the acronym YFC and do not define what YFC stands for.
There is also a concern that the YFC representative gained access to the school as a “volunteer” but who is actually a community youth worker employed by Youth Unlimited YFC Comox Valley.
WHO IS YOUTH UNLIMITED YFC?
Board Chair Waite says that volunteers from YFC have been active in Comox Valley schools since the early 1990s. But “up until now, no one has complained about their activities to the board.”
According to its website, YFC is “a Christian faith-based, not-for-profit organization that primarily engages with youth ages 10-20. Our experienced staff is deeply committed and caring. We support youth through contextualized youth programs and intentional relationships. We passionately believe in the potential of each young person with whom we interact, and are dedicated to providing opportunities for them to lead what Jesus calls “lives to the full.”
Youth For Christ/Youth Unlimited is an international, non-denominational Christian youth organization. There are 36 Chartered and five Affiliate Chapters in Canada, with 300 ministry sites and 900 different programs, according to their website.
They publish a “Weekly Ministry Schedule” that lists activities at Glacier View Alternative School, Highland Secondary, Lake Trail Middle School and Cumberland Community School.
In its recent newsletter, YFC Youth Work Elena Harper wrote, “I’m so encouraged that as a team here at YFC we get to play a large role in the introduction of the gospel to these students and we get to steward and foster those relationships. The Holy Spirit is filling hearts, places, homes and schools this season.”
HOW YFC BECAME AN ISSUE
According to sources close to Comox Valley parent groups, people became aware of Youth For Christ activities when Anita DeVries ran unsuccessfully for a school trustee position in the October elections. DeVries campaigned by handing out anti-SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identification) propaganda leaflets in front of Lake Trail and Courtenay Elementary schools.
Voters and parents started looking at DeVries and discovered her relationship with YFC. From there, parents realized that a family farm used for school district field trips was donating part of its admission fees to YFC and now most school groups have switched to a different farm.
Our sources say that YFC alleged online that they were feeding kids lunches in local schools, which was news to Parent Advisory Councils.
Tensions began to rise at the Cumberland PAC, according to our sources, because when they brought up concerns about YFC on multiple occasions to Principal Black, she dismissed them as not a problem. It appeared to some, our sources say, that the youth workers’ affiliation with YFC was being hidden.
“It is even more troubling when students (and families) have not had the opportunity for informed consent around participation in these activities,” Lee and Therrien wrote in their Dec. 6 letter.
With only a week left before schools break for the December holiday season, not much is likely to happen until the new year.
Board Chair Waite told Decafnation that there is no timeline set to conclude the review, but she says the issue “is on the top of mind for the district, a priority, now that it has been raised.”
In the meantime, the ban on faith-based “volunteers” in district schools will remain in place.
According to BC’s School Act, 76 (1) All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. (2) The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or Provincial school.
All of B.C.’s schools’ Codes of Conduct are required to reference BC Human Rights Code as it supersedes everything.
SD 71 Administrative Procedure 207 Conduct Related to Secular and Non-Sectarian Principles
SD 71 Administrative Procedure 153 External Organization Access to Students
SD 71 Administrative Procedure 550 Use of School Facilities
SD 71 Administrative Procedure 490 Volunteers in School Districts
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Youth Unlimited, Youth for Christ does amazing work in the Comox Valley. They provide health group activities for teens and are very appreciated by staff at Glacier Alternative School for their ongoing support of teens. They were wonderful role models and helped my daughter immensely in her teen years.
We should applaud this organization and its workers for sharing their goodness in the Comox Valley.
May I suggest that some of the dissenters offer to be volunteers in order to make sure that their beliefs or nonbeliefs are being followed by their children? It has been my experience that the most zealous individuals are those who will defend to their deaths something they believe does not exist.
Crazy has a definition and religions qualify.
This issue should never have been brought to the board table. A school principal is responsible for knowing about and supporting school board policy. Had the principals known board policy, which it is their duty to enforce, they would have dealt with the issue quickly at the school level.
This is not a school board problem, its an administrative problem. It is a school principal problem that should have been dealt with at the school level or in the Superintendent’s office. Current board of education administrative policy is for accountability to start at principal level, with the final accountability with the school board CEO, the Superintendent of schools. If any heads should roll, it starts at the school level.
The board chair is now in a position where she has to clean up an administrative mess created by administration allowing YFC into the schools in the first place.
Note: Cliff Boldt spent 35 years in public education and four years as a SD71 school trustee.
I agree with you to a degree… it seems this organization is advertising that it has ‘ministries’ in half a dozen schools in the Valley. If it was only occurring in one school I 100% agree with you… and it’s unfortunate the administrator did not respond appropriately when it was brought to her attention by parents at Cumberland Community School. It seems however to be a bigger issue in that this organization has discovered a loop hole and is acting in bad faith as “volunteers” with alternative motives.
Thanks to those who are seeking straightforward answers to what is actually going on with Youth for Christ “leaders” in some of our public schools.
Looking at the website the motives of this Christian group are stated:
1. To see every young person living in Christ
2. Engage and equip youth to know and follow Jesus.
YFC pays its youth leaders to “volunteer” in the schools (spelled out in YFC Newsletters etc ) and have been since the 1990’s. A thorough review of Legislation and how Board policies line up with reality, and who has the discretion to allow such activity in schools can’t happen fast enough!
Parents and community members have every reason to know the truth, as do all educators/colleagues, and Trustees. I trust that this is an urgent priority for our new Board and I will look forward to learning what they uncover and what changes will immediately be required.
So interesting – looks like Anita DeVries’ run for school board backfired in a major way by exposing her group to scrutiny!
Which family field-trip farm was it?
I saw that Coastal Black farm was advertising donating partial proceeds to YFC this year. It was on their poster.
I’m told many schools moved their field trips to Shamrock Farms.
Coastal Black was donating some of their Halloween admission fees to YFC. I’d assume that is the farm in question.
I think this is an argument about the transmission of values and free speech. Realistically we cannot control all our children are exposed to. YFC was active at lunchtime and recess. Student participation at these times is optional. My understanding is no one was “forced” to attend against their will by YFC.
When my kids were at Vanier 20 years ago, same sex students were “necking” in the girls change room while other girls tried to get changed. One daughter saw a fight where a kid was viciously kicked around while laying on the ground, and kids rioted in the streets of Cumberland, until the fire chief hosed them down. Some parents were mad. I applauded him.
We told our children: the change room is for changing. We may not agree at many levels with the choices others make. That’s ok. We are all different, but their choice is their choice and they need to be respected and treated kindly no matter what.
Regarding school fights: We said not approving does not mean you stay silent just as forgiving does not mean “it doesn’t matter”. Go get help if someone is getting hurt. Re: looting or rioting…leave the area immediately… if bad stuff is happening. If you stand and idly watch while riots take place, I hope you get hosed. It will teach you to leave unsafe places as soon as you can.
I heard the parent response best who said she would be offended if people were teaching her kids stuff. I agree! Parenting is tough and kids learn best from those they love…good parents not the state. Teach values at home and when you disagree with someone’s value system choose to be respectful. Don’t just try to shut them up. Sometimes we love the most when we disagree strongly: 42 years of marriage …and still counting.
Thank you for encouraging dialogue and community.
Intersting legislation. Does it apply to private Christian schools within the Province?
Wow, education has become so complex with social engineering, unheard of in my time of public education. I find it all a bit overwhelming.
Last I looked Christian is a name….
There is no place in modern education for primitive superstitions being taught and promoted.
The sheer ignorance of the religious is no more plainly demonstrated than in the name of this group…christ, is not a name. It is a title.
Until such time as the religious can prove their god and their messiah exist-and they can’t-they should be denied access to vulnerable children where they teach what is demonstrably lies and lies which amount to child abuse.
Many studies have proven children raised with religious beliefs have difficulty dealing with reality when they grow up.
One need only look toward the psychologically damaged folks in the country south of us for examples.
Would this not also forbid any aboriginal activities where we are asked to pray to the “spirits”? What is the line between religion and culture? Is there one?
No this has been tested in the courts a few years ago and it has been ruled that practicing culture in schools does not constitute religious expression.
Have indigenous groups been volunteering at schools under false pretenses with the intention of converting children to their faith without the knowledge and consent of the parents? I doubt it otherwise they would have been lambasted much louder. Whataboutism at it’s best.
I would be extremely offended if some organization decided to indoctrinate my child without my knowledge. Public school is for secular education.
Thanks for covering this issue George!
In reply to Ron Crowther: You may be confusing the education around the TRC and this issue.
Nowhere in the BC curriculum has it been advised or required that students pray to any ‘spirit’ regardless of denomination.
The TRC encourages us as as a society to recognize and repair our relationship with the First Nations.
Youth for Christ is an issue not to be confused or compared with the TRC.
A Christian mother sued the Port Alberni school district for practicing “religion” when First Nation culture and ceremony took place. The court ruled that it did not constitute religion but actually culture and did not break any laws around separation of religion and state.