BRUCE-GREY CATHOLIC DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD
Religious Accommodation Guideline
PPM 119 – Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario
Ontario’s Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy
Ontario Human Rights Commission
The Bruce-Grey 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 Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (the 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.
I. LEGISLATIVE AND POLICY CONTEXT
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
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
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.
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 discrimination:
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 accommodation.
(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.
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.
III. ACCOMMODATION GUIDELINES
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
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
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
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.
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
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;
iv. Dietary requirements;
vi. Religious dress;
vii. Modesty requirements in physical education; and
viii. Participation in daily activities and curriculum.
IV. GENERAL GUIDELINES AND PROCEDURES
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:
Buddhist Lunar New Year/Chinese
Western Christian Good Friday
Eastern Christian Christmas
Jewish Rosh Hashanah (2 days)
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 [insert name and contact information of Board Equity Officer].
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 Resources.
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.
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 schoolsponsored
activities and community events.
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.
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 accommodations.
6. Religious Dress
“Dress Code” is the appropriate dress policy established by a school, and may include
a school uniform.
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 to:
o Head covers: Yarmulkes, turbans, Rastafarian headdress, hijabs
o Crucifixes, Stars of David, etc.
o 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.
IV. LIMITATIONS TO RELIGIOUS ACCOMMODATION
IV. 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.
V. 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.
VI. 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.
VII. It is therefore recommended:
VII.1.1. that school administrators designate another appropriate space or classroom,
other than the chapel, for religious celebrations celebrated by other
Christian denominations or faith traditions
VII.1.2. that Catholic school boards consult with their respective local Ordinary on
GUIDELINE FOR KIRPAN ACCOMMODATION
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
o 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:
o The Kirpan is six inches or less.
o The Kirpan will be sufficiently secured with a stitched flap so it is not easily removed
from its sheath.
o The Kirpan will not be worn visibly, but under the wearer’s clothing.
o 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.
o Students under the age of eighteen must be accompanied by parents/guardians
when discussing the rules regarding the wearing of a Kirpan