Comox Valley schools have put a hold on all faith-based community volunteer activities pending a review to determine if Youth For Christ workers have been violating SD71 policies and provincial laws
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.
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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