Half of the students in certain primary and secondary classes were absent on Monday to celebrate Eid-el-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, with their families. Absences that revive the debate on religious holidays in the educational network, especially in Montreal.
Quebec schools are closed on certain traditional Christian holidays, such as Easter or Christmas, but remain open during major Jewish and Muslim celebrations. And this “Catholic-secularism” gives headaches to many school principals.
The staff of the Center de services scolaire de Montreal (CSSDM), the largest in Quebec, and one of the most religiously diverse, can request free time in advance for a number of Jewish, Muslim and Orthodox holidays. However, the school has to find substitutes for the occasion, which is proving difficult due to staff shortages and isolation due to COVID-19.
“In general, in accordance with the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a request for leave of absence for religious reasons may be granted to members of our staff, provided that this absence is compatible with the proper functioning of the organization. In this way, the educational services and the safety of the students must be guaranteed at all times “, explains Alain Perron, spokesman for the CSSDM.
The presence of students is still mandatory despite this religious holiday, but the service center estimates that between 10% and 15% of children were absent on Monday for Eid-el-Fitr. But the rate depends a lot on the environment: in some classes, almost half of the students were absent, according to our sources.
In one of the pavilions at Marie-Rivier Elementary School in the Saint-Michel district, home to a large Muslim community, more than a third of the students were missing. In Marisa Thibault’s class, 8 of the 16 students were at home. “I worry, because some kids need extra effort to be successful,” he says.
One wonders if Quebec is not ripe for a debate on religious holidays. Including Christian holidays, which are mostly traditions, she said. In her pavilion, three teachers, daycare educators and the school caretaker also had free time for this important Muslim holiday. Another teacher could not be on leave due to a lack of a substitute, but will have priority for Eid-el-Fitr next year.
“It’s like Christmas for us”
“It’s difficult with the lack of substitutes. We have an opening speech with our teams, we know it’s an important party, but we need to keep the workload from falling on the shoulders of other colleagues, who are already overwhelmed by the pandemic, “said Kathleen Legault. president of the Montreal Association. School principals.
Doubts arise on the network “about the relevance of that day when half of the students are missing in some centers,” he adds. For its part, the Montreal Teachers’ Alliance is adapting to this “Montreal reality.”
“It’s like Christmas for us,” said Hanane Alaoui, a Montrealer of Moroccan descent who on Monday kept her 9-year-old and 14-year-old children at home in Eid-el-Fitr. He still sent the youngest half-day to class, to help him succeed. “It’s very important for families to get together at home. We make traditional cakes, we make presents, we put on new clothes. “.
After 30 days of fasting between sunrise and sunset, this celebration of the end of Ramadan is the perfect opportunity to celebrate with the extended family, says the mother.
Jean Bernatchez, a professor of school administration at the Université du Québec à Rimouski (Lévis campus), believes that the educational network is still adapting to the growing — and relatively recent — diversity of Quebec society. “Our main holidays are associated with Catholic or Christian holidays. There is still a cross in front of the schools in some areas. Some have spoken of Catholic secularism in the context of Quebec. As if secularism were for others, ”he explains.
He believes that the persistent debate over religious holidays should be settled in every school or school service center, “in the place closest to where the problem arises.” “I do not see how it can be managed at the national level. It is up to each community to find solutions that correspond to local realities. »