Brant Haldimand Norfolk Religious Accommodation Policy draft





The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board is committed to the values of freedom of religion and freedom from discriminatory or harassing behaviours based on religion and will take all reasonable steps to provide religious accommodations within the legal rights afforded to the Catholic school system. Such accommodations will be provided to staff, students and their families.


The Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic District School Board believes in the dignity of all people and their equality as children of God. The Board recognizes the importance of freedom of religion and strives to recognize value and honour the many customs, traditions and beliefs that make up the Catholic community.


Freedom of religion is an individual right and a collective responsibility. The Board commits to work

with the community it serves to foster an inclusive learning environment that promotes acceptance and

protects individuals from discrimination and harassment on the basis of their religion.


In accordance with the Catholic Church’s teachings, it is the policy of the Board to provide, in all its

operations, an educational environment which promotes and supports diversity within its Catholic

community as well as the equal attainment of life opportunities for all students, staff, parents and other

members of that community.




All school boards exist within a broader context of law and public policy that protect and defend

human rights. At the Board, a number of policy statements have been developed that reinforce both

federal and provincial legislation, and also help ensure that the freedoms they set out are protected

within the school system.


The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2(a) and Section 15) guarantees freedom of

religion. The Ontario Human Rights Code (The Code) protects an individual’s freedom from

discriminatory or harassing behaviours based on prohibited grounds. Consistent with this legislation

is The Education Act, its Regulations and policies governing Equity and Inclusion in Schools:


PPM No 108, “Opening or Closing Exercises in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools”,


R.R.O. 1990, Regulation 298, “Operation of School-General” s 27-29, under the heading “Religion in Schools”


PPM No. 119, “Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario



The Board and its staff are committed to the elimination of discrimination as outlined in this Federal

and Provincial legislation in a manner which is consistent with the exercise of its denominational

rights under section 93 of the Constitution Act, 1982 and as recognized in section 19 of the Ontario

Human Rights Code (“the Code”).

The Board recognizes, and is committed to, the values of freedom of religion and freedom from

discriminatory or harassing behaviour based on prohibited grounds through its human rights policy,

equity and inclusive education policy, the safe schools policy and curriculum documents. All of these

will be informed by, and interpreted in accordance with, the principles of the Code.


This Policy reflects the Board’s fidelity to Canadian law protecting freedom of religion in accordance

with the Catholic Church’s teachings.




1. Accommodation

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious

Observances defines “accommodation” as a duty corresponding to the right to be free from


The Code provides the right to be free from discrimination, and there is a general corresponding duty

to protect the right: the “duty to accommodate.” The duty arises when a person’s religious beliefs

conflict with a requirement, qualification or practice. The Code imposes a duty to accommodate

based on the needs of the group of which the person making the request is a member.

Accommodation may modify a rule or make an exception to all or part of it for the person requesting


(Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of Religious Observances, Ontario Human Rights

Commission, October 20, 1996, pg. 5)

The duty to accommodate is an obligation that arises when requirements, factors, or qualifications,

which are imposed in good faith, have an adverse impact on, or provide an unfair preference for, a

group of persons based on a protected ground under the Code. The duty to accommodate must be

provided to the point of undue hardship. In determining whether there is undue hardship, section

24(2) of the Code provides that reference should be made to the cost of accommodation, outside

sources of funding, if any, and health and safety requirements.


2. Creed

Creed is interpreted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s 1996 Policy on Creed and the

Accommodation of Religious Observances as “religious creed” or “religion.” It is defined as a

professed system and confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances of worship.

The existence of religious beliefs and practices are both necessary and sufficient to the meaning of

creed, if the beliefs and practices are sincerely held and/or observed.


This policy does not extend to religions that incite hatred or violence against other individuals or

groups, or to practices and observances that purport to have a religious basis, but which contravene

international human rights standards or criminal law (Policy on Creed and the Accommodation of

Religious Observances, Ontario Human Rights Commission, October 20, 1996, pg. 2).


3. Undue Hardship

Accommodation will be provided to the point of undue hardship, as defined by the OHRC (for

example in the Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate). A determination

regarding undue hardship will be based on an assessment of costs, outside sources of funding, and

health and safety. It will be based on objective evidence. For more information about the evidence

needed to prove undue hardship, see Human Rights at Work, p. 133-134 and Appendix E.


A determination that an accommodation will create undue hardship carries with it significant liability

for the Board. It should be made only with the approval of the appropriate Supervisory Officer or

where appropriate the Board of Trustees.

Where a determination is made that an accommodation would create undue hardship, the person

requesting accommodation will be given written notice, including the reasons for the decision and the

objective evidence relied upon. The accommodation seeker shall be informed of his or her recourse

under the Board’s Equity and Inclusive Education Policy and Anti-Discrimination Policy and

Procedure, and under the Ontario Human Rights Code.


Where a determination has been made that an accommodation would cause undue hardship, the Board

will proceed to implement the next best accommodation short of undue hardship, or will consider

phasing in the requested accommodation.




The purpose of this guideline is to ensure that all Board staff, students, parents and other members of

the school community are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Code with respect to

religious accommodation. It also sets out the Board’s procedures for accommodation and the

responsibilities of each of the parties to the accommodation process. In accordance with the Equity

Strategy, the Code and OHRC’s Guidelines on Developing Human Rights Policies and Procedures, it

is intended that the accommodation process, as well as the accommodation itself, be effective and

respectful of the dignity of accommodation seekers.


The Board is committed to providing an environment that is inclusive and that is free of barriers

based on prohibited grounds. Accommodation will be provided in accordance with the principles of

dignity and inclusion. The Board will work cooperatively, and in a spirit of respect, with all partners

in the accommodation process.


1. Accommodation Based on Request


The Board will take all reasonable steps to provide accommodation to individual members of a

religious group to facilitate their religious beliefs and practices. All accommodation requests will be

taken seriously. No person will be penalized for making an accommodation request.


The Board will base its decision to accommodate by applying the Code’s criteria of undue hardship,

the Board’s ability to fulfill its duties under Board policies and the Education Act.


When concerns related to beliefs and practices arise in schools, collaboration among school, student,

family, and religious community is needed in order to develop appropriate accommodation. It is the

role of the Board and its staff to ensure equity and respect for the diverse religious beliefs and

practices of students and their families and other staff in the school system. However, school

administrators should not be placed in the position of monitoring a child’s compliance with a

religious obligation, and enforcing such practices, e.g. wearing a head covering is not the

responsibility of the school or the Board.


2. General Procedures for Religious Accommodation


a. Staff

The person requesting accommodation should advise the administration at the beginning of the

school year, to the extent possible. If September notice is not feasible, the person should make

the request as early as possible.

The absence of employees due to religious observances should be granted as determined by this

policy and the appropriate collective agreement.


b. Students

Students must present verbal or written notice from their parents/guardians specifying their

accommodation needs relating to religious observances, including holy days on which they will

be absent from school. This notice should be made enough in advance (preferably at the

beginning of each school year) to ensure that scheduling of major evaluations, such as tests,

assignments or examinations, takes the religious observances into consideration.


Student handbooks and parent newsletters should include information about the procedure to

follow to request an accommodation for religious observances and/or holy days. Such procedures

shall be easy for staff, students and parents to understand.


3. Unresolved Requests


Despite the Board’s commitment to accommodate, an individual may feel that discrimination based

on religion has occurred. The Board will take reasonable and timely steps to address the unresolved

issues raised by the affected person which could include dispute resolution mechanism.


4. Areas of Accommodation

For many students and staff of the Board, there are a number of areas where the practice of their

religion will result in a request for accommodation on the part of the school and/or the Board. These

areas include, but are not limited to the following:


i. School opening and closing exercises;

ii. Leave of Absence for Religious Holy Days;

iii. Prayer;

iv. Dietary requirements;

v. Fasting;

vi. Religious dress;

vii. Modesty requirements in physical education; and

viii. Participation in daily activities and curriculum.



This policy will consider each (of the above stated) area of accommodation in turn.


1. School Opening and Closing Ceremonies

Pursuant to the Ontario Ministry of Education Policy/Program Memorandum No. 108

(“Memorandum No. 108”), if a student or parent/guardian objects to all or part of the opening or

closing exercises due to religious beliefs, the student will be exempted and given the option not to

participate and to remain in class or in an agreed upon location through the duration of the exercise.


Memorandum No. 108 states the following:


1. All public elementary and secondary schools in Ontario must be opened or closed each day with

the national anthem. “God Save the Queen” may be included.

2. The inclusion of any content beyond “O Canada” in opening or closing exercises is to be optional

for public school boards.

3. Where public school boards resolve to include, in the opening or closing exercises in their

schools, anything in addition to the content set out in item 1 above, it must be composed of either

or both of the following:

a. One or more readings that impart social, moral, or spiritual values and that are representative

 of our multicultural society. Readings may be chosen from both scriptural writings, including

prayers, and secular writings;

b. A period of silence.

4. Parents who object to part or all of the exercises may apply to the Principal to have their children

exempted. Students who are adults may also exercise such a right.

These requirements will be interpreted in accordance with the Code and the Board will consider

other requests for accommodation as may be made.


2. Absence for Religious Holy Days


The Board affirms and values the faith diversity in our Catholic secondary schools. Section 21(2)

(g) of the Education Act provides that a person is excused from school attendance in observance

of a “holy day by the Church or religious denomination to which he/she belongs.”


All staff and students who observe religious holidays in accordance with section 21(2) (g) of the

Education Act may be excused from attendance, subject to the particular request for religious

leave process.


The Board will encourage members of diverse groups to identify their religious holy days at the

beginning of each school year. The Board will make reasonable efforts to acknowledge the

different observances of their Catholic community when planning programs and events, such as

Board-wide tests and examinations. To the extent possible, conferences, meetings, workshops,

co-curricular activities and exams/tests, will not be scheduled on these significant faith days:


(Examples of) Significant Holy Days:






Lunar New Year/Chinese

Western Christian

Good Friday

Eastern Christian


Holy Friday




Rosh Hashanah (2 Days)

Yom Kippur

Passover (first day)







 (A multi-faith calendar will help schools make appropriate accommodations.)


Guidelines for Administrators


All staff and students who request to observe a religious holy day should be allowed this right without

having to undergo any unnecessary hardship.


Staff requesting a leave should advise the school administration at, or as close as possible to, the

beginning of the school year and leave should be granted in accordance with the terms of the

appropriate collective agreement.



Students requesting a leave should give verbal or written notice from their parent/guardian to the

school at, or as close as possible to, the beginning of the school year. Such procedures should be easy

to understand and follow.


Student agendas, school newsletters and announcements should include information about the

procedures for requesting leaves.


All staff members acting on behalf of/representing the Board on other organizations, which in

partnership with the Board are planning events or activities that involve students and/or staff of Board

schools, have the responsibility to bring this procedure to the attention of these organizations.


For consultation or further clarification of questions, administrators and managers should contact

Trish Kings, Superintendent of Education.


Unresolved Requests

a. Employee

    In the event that, after an employee’s consultation with the Superintendent of Education,

    unresolved issues remain, then the matter will be referred to the Superintendent of Human


b. Students

    In the event that a student maintains that his or her rights under the Board’s religious

    accommodation policy have been compromised, then the matter will be referred to the

    appropriate Superintendent of Education.


3. Prayer


    The Board recognizes the significance of prayer in religious practice. Board schools will make

    reasonable efforts to accommodate individuals’ requirement for daily prayer by providing an

    appropriate location within the building for students and staff to participate in prayer. This may mean

    a quiet space in the library, an empty room, or wherever it is mutually satisfactory for the school and

    the student or staff member requesting the accommodation. Adult presence should be for supervision

    purposes only.


4. Dietary Restrictions


    The Board is sensitive to the different dietary restrictions of various religious groups. Such

    sensitivity includes attending to issues related to the menus provided by catering companies, snacks in

    elementary schools, and food provided within schools, at school-sponsored activities and community



    Breakfast and lunch programs in both secondary and elementary schools will consider relevant

    dietary restrictions in their menu planning. Availability of vegetarian options is recommended as a

    form of inclusive design.

    Special attention needs to be given to overnight outdoor education activities, as well as field trips that

    extend over a mealtime period.


5. Fasting


    The Board is sensitive to religious periods of fasting. Board schools will endeavour to provide

    appropriate space, other than cafeterias or lunchrooms, for individuals who are fasting in religious

    observance. The Board recognizes that students who are fasting may need exemptions from certain

    physical education classes and Board schools should make reasonable efforts to provide appropriate



6. Religious Dress


    “Dress Code” is the appropriate dress policy established by a school, and may include a school



   The Board recognizes that there are certain religious communities that require specific items of

    ceremonial dress. The Board understands that some religious attire, which is a requirement of

    religious observance, may not conform to a school’s Dress Code. Board schools will reasonably

    accommodate students with regard to religious attire. Religious attire is not cultural dress; it is a

    requirement of religious observation.


    Religious attire that should be reasonably accommodated in Board schools includes, but is not limited


Head covers: Yarmulkes, turbans, Rastafarian headdress, hijabs

Crucifixes, Stars of David, etc.

Items of ceremonial dress


Where uniforms are worn, administrators may ask the student to wear religious attire in the same

colour as the uniform (e.g. the head scarves for females); however, there may be religious

requirements of colour that cannot be modified.


Special attention must be given to accommodations necessary for a student to participate in physical

education and school organized sports. Where possible, these should be incorporated into Board

policies as part of an inclusive design process.


The Board seeks to foster an atmosphere of cultural understanding in order to be proactive in

addressing potential harassment about religious attire. Schools should be aware that harassment

about religious attire is one of the most common types of harassment and bullying. The Board and its

schools will not tolerate any teasing directed at, or inappropriate actions taken against, an individual’s

religious attire and there will be appropriate consequences for individuals who violate this rule.


There are religious communities that require specific items of ceremonial dress which may be

commonly perceived as contravening Board policies, for example the use of the Kirpan by Khalsa

Sikh students. For specific guidelines on the accommodation of Khalsa Sikh students wishing to

carry a Kirpan, please see Appendix “A.”


7. Modesty Requirements for Dress in Physical Education Classes


    The Board recognizes that some religious communities observe strict modesty attire in respect of their

    religion. This can become a matter of concern when students are asked to wear the clothing used in

    physical education activities. Such policies should be designed inclusively, taking into account

    common religious needs that may exist.

    If a family has concerns that cannot be addressed through inclusive design, , the school should discuss

    the modesty requirements with them, and, taking into consideration the Ministry of Education’s

    mandated expectations in the physical education curriculum, provide reasonable accommodation The

    curriculum requirements should be explained to the family so that it has sufficient information to

    understand the physical education curriculum and to select available curriculum alternatives.


8. Participation in Daily Activities and Curriculum


    The Board will seek to reasonably accommodate students where there is a demonstrated conflict

    between a specific class or curriculum and a religious requirement or observance. Where academic

    accommodation is requested, the school should have an informed discussion with the student’s

    parents/guardians to understand the nature and extent of the conflict.


    The school should make it clear during the discussion that its role is to protect students and staff from

    harassment and discrimination because of their religion and cultural practices. Where these conflict

    with the school routines, activities or curriculum, the school should consider accommodation. It

    cannot, however, accommodate religious values and beliefs that clearly conflict with mandated

    Ministry of Education and Board policies.


    It is important to note that when an individual requests an accommodation related to the curriculum,

    the accommodation applies to the individual in question and not to the whole class or to classroom

    practices in general.


    The Ministry of Education recommends substitutions when there are exemptions requested related to

    specific curriculum (Ontario Secondary Schools, Grades 9-12, Program and Diploma Requirements).

    In general, the Board recommends an informed, common-sense approach to questions of religion and

    curriculum. Hopefully, these questions can be solved by an open discussion between the teacher, the

    student and his/her family.




1. The Board supports freedom of religion and an individual’s right to manifest his/her

    religious beliefs and observances. The right to freedom of religion, however, is not

    absolute and religious accommodation in the Board is carried out in the larger context of

    the Catholic education system and denominational rights of Catholic schools.


2. The Board, at all times, will seek to accommodate an individual’s right to freedom of

    religion in a manner that not only respects the individual’s beliefs but the principles of

    the Catholic Church.


3. As for chapels in Catholic schools, they are specifically designed and furnished for prayer

    and liturgy within the Catholic tradition and are not to be considered multi-faith chapels.

    Following the general custom of the Church, non-Catholics are welcome to join in prayer

    services and liturgical celebrations of the Catholic Church community (keeping in mind

    some restrictions such as sharing in Holy Communion). Such a chapel is open to all

    people for individual silent prayer or meditation. However, it is not appropriate that non-

    Catholic liturgies or group prayers be held in this setting.


4. It is therefore recommended:


i. that school administrators designate another appropriate space or

  classroom, other than the chapel, for religious celebrations celebrated by

  other Christian denominations or faith traditions


ii. that Catholic school boards consult with their respective local Ordinary on

    such accommodations.






A Kirpan is a ceremonial sword that must be worn by all baptised Khalsa Sikhs. The Board seeks to

accommodate Khalsa Sikhs who wear a kirpan under the following conditions as follows:


·         At the beginning of the school year or upon registration, the student and

                   parents/guardians must report to their respective school administration that they are

                   Khalsa Sikhs and wear the five articles of faith, including a Kirpan.


The principal, in consultation with the student and his/her parents/guardians, will develop appropriate

accommodations to allow the student to wear the Kirpan while ensuring the safety of others. These

may include the following conditions:


·         The Kirpan is six inches or less.

·         The Kirpan will be sufficiently secured with a stitched flap so it is not easily removed

             from its sheath.

·         The Kirpan will not be worn visibly, but under the wearer’s clothing.

·         There is notification in writing to the principal by the parents/guardians and student and,

             where possible, from the Guardwara (place of worship), confirming that the student

             requesting accommodation is a Khalsa Sikh.

·         Students under the age of eighteen must be accompanied by parents/guardians when

             discussing the rules regarding the wearing of a Kirpan.