Administrative Procedure 142: Religious Accommodation

Legal References

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 15); The Ontario Human Rights Code; Education Act; Ministry of Education Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) 108 Opening and Closing Exercises in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools; PPM 119 Developing and Implementing Equity and Inclusive Education Policies in Ontario Schools; R.R.O. Reg. 298: Sections 27-29 Religion in Schools

Related References

Administrative Procedure (AP) 138 Positive Workplace Environment; AP 351 Code of Conduct; AP 352 Progressive Discipline and Promoting Positive Student Behaviour; AP 355 Dress Code; AP 421 Staff Development; AP 702 Religious Accommodations (Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board, April 2021, pgs. 6-7)

1. Background
Staff of the Avon Maitland District School Board recognizes and values the religious diversity within its community and is committed to providing a safe, respectful and equitable environment for all, free from all forms of discriminatory or harassing behaviours based on religion.

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 religious freedom for all individuals. While the Board and its staff will take all reasonable steps to ensure freedom of religion and religious practices consistent with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, it is expected that students and their families will help the Board to understand their religious needs and will work with the Board and its schools to determine appropriate and reasonable accommodations.

The Board is committed to preventing and eradicating within its school community discrimination and harassment based on grounds set out in the Ontario Human Rights Commission, including creed. The Board supports freedom of religion and an individual’s right to manifest their religious beliefs and observances. In accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the right to freedom of religion, however, is not absolute. The Board will limit practices or behaviour in its schools which may put public safety, health, or the human rights and freedoms of others at risk. As well, the Board will limit practices or behaviours in its schools that are in violation of other AMDSB Board policies and procedures. 

2. Definition of 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 or confession of faith, including both beliefs and observances of worship. A belief in a God or gods, or a single supreme being or deity is not a requisite. (Policy on Creed and Accommodation of Religious Observances, Ontario Human Rights Commission, 1996, pg. 4)

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.
According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, every person has the right to be free from discrimination or harassing behaviour that is based on religion or which arises because the person who is the target of the behaviour does not share the same faith.  Atheists and agnostics are also protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Creed does not include secular, moral, or ethical beliefs or political convictions. 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. A determination regarding undue hardship will be based on an assessment of costs, outside sources of funding, and health and safety.

The duty to accommodate requires that the most appropriate accommodation be determined and provided, again, to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation is considered appropriate if it results in equal opportunity to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges experienced by others, or if it is proposed or adopted to achieve equal opportunity and meets the individual’s creed-related needs. The most appropriate accommodation is the one that:
  • Respects dignity (including autonomy, comfort and confidentiality);
  • Responds to a person’s individualized needs; and
  • Allows for integration and full participation.

4. Absence for Religious Holy Days
The Board is committed to affirm and value equally the faith diversity in our schools. Section 21(2) (g) of the Education Act provides that a student is excused from school attendance in observance of a “holy day by the church or religious denomination to which [they] belong.” This requirement will be interpreted in accordance with the Human Rights Code. All staff who observe religious holidays in accordance with Section 21(2)(g) of the Education Act may be excused from attendance, in accordance with the Board’s policy on religious leaves. The Board will encourage members of different faith-based 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 staff, students and community when planning programs and events, such as Board-wide tests, high-stakes examinations, parent interview dates, field trips, and other events. Student handbooks, parent newsletters, and school announcements should include information about religious holy day procedures. To the extent possible, given the observance of staff and students in schools, conferences, meetings, workshops will not be scheduled on significant faith days. Co-curricular activities and assessments for, as, and of learning would continue for individuals not impacted.

(A multi-faith calendar will help schools make appropriate accommodations. This is distributed each December.)

5. Prayer
The Board recognizes the significance of prayer in religious and cultural practices. All Avon Maitland 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 meditation and multi-faith prayer. (See Appendix A)

6. Competing Rights
In general, competing human rights involve situations where parties to a dispute claim that the enjoyment of an individual or group’s human rights and freedoms, as protected by law, would interfere with another’s rights and freedoms. While there are many situations in which rights, interests, and values may seem to conflict or compete, when evaluating situations of competing rights, human rights and other legally codified rights will usually hold a higher status than interests and values. The Human Rights and Equity Lead Administrator will reference the OHRC’s Policy on Competing Human Rights for resolving situations where there is a conflict of human rights and rights that are legally protected. (Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy on Competing Rights, October 3, 2012)

7. Religious Dress
“Dress Code” (AP 355) is designed inclusively, taking into account common religious and cultural needs or practices that may exist. Students have a right to wear religious attire without fear of discipline or discrimination. Courses that include attire as part of the curriculum (for example, public speaking and job readiness) may include assignment-specific dress. Schools will be aware that there may be diverse culturally-specific attire that would also meet the requirements of a course.

8. Dietary Restrictions
The Avon Maitland District School 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, nutrition programs, and food provided within schools, at school-sponsored activities and community events.

Breakfast and lunch programs in both secondary and elementary schools will consider relevant dietary restrictions in their menu planning.

Special attention will be given to overnight outdoor education activities, as well as field trips that extend over a mealtime period.

9. Fasting
The Board is sensitive to religious and cultural periods of fasting. Schools will endeavour to provide appropriate space, other than cafeterias or lunchrooms, for individuals who are fasting in religious and cultural observances. The Board recognizes that students who are fasting may need exemptions from certain physical education activities and high-stakes examinations and will make reasonable efforts to provide appropriate accommodations. People who are not participating in a fast may continue their customary activities. (e.g. you may eat in front of a person who is fasting; however, it is inappropriate to have “work lunches.”)

10. Participation in Daily Activities and Curriculum
The Board will seek to reasonably accommodate students where there is a demonstrated conflict between a specific course or curriculum and a religious/spiritual requirement or observance. Where academic accommodations are requested by families, the school should have an informed discussion with the student’s parents/guardians/caregivers to understand the nature and extent of the conflict. The school staff will protect students and staff from harassment and discrimination due to religious or cultural practices. Where there is conflict between a school's routines, activities, or curriculum and a student’s religious or cultural beliefs, the school shall consider accommodation.

The Board cannot accommodate religious/spiritual values and beliefs that conflict with mandated Ministry of Education and Board policies.

11. Smudging
In accordance with the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, the Board will permit smudging and the use of sacred medicines in connection with Indigenous cultural practices at cultural and educational events, meetings, and relevant classroom presentations.

In considering the practice of smudging, the principal, in consultation with the Indigenous Lead Educator or their designate: 
  1. Will consider the most appropriate location. (e.g. classrooms, gyms, atriums, teachers’ lounge, offices, the meditation and multi-faith prayer space, etc.)
  2. Will consider the location of fire alarms and smoke detectors with the custodian. (i.e. Fire alarms should not be a deterrent for smudging.)
  3. Will ensure that staff in the building are to be notified of upcoming smudging in case allergies present a risk.
  4. Will ensure that parents/guardians/caregivers, staff, and students are given advanced notice of a smudging, noting day, time, and place. (i.e. Parents/guardians/caregivers and staff should feel free to ask questions and express any concerns they may have about the process.)
  5. Will ensure that smudging is completely voluntary. (i.e. it is completely acceptable for a person to indicate that they do not wish to participate in a smudge. That person may choose to stay in the room and refrain from smudging or leave the room during the smudge. Respect for all is the guiding principle in any Indigenous tradition.)
  6. Will consider a "liquid smudge" that consists of all the traditional medicines as an alternative. Liquid smudge kits will be available through the AMDSB Indigenous lead or AMDSB Indigenous counsellors.
12. 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 follows:

At the beginning of the school year or upon registration, the student and parents/guardians/caregivers 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 their parents/guardians/caregivers, will develop appropriate accommodations to allow the student to wear the Kirpan while ensuring the safety of others. These may include the following conditions: 
  1. The Kirpan is six inches or less.
  2. The Kirpan will be sufficiently secured with a stitched flap so it is not easily removed from its sheath.
  3. The Kirpan will not be worn visibly, but under the wearer’s clothing.
  4. There is notification in writing to the principal by the parents/guardians/caregivers and students and, where possible, from the Gurdwara (place of worship), confirming that the student requesting accommodation is a Khalsa Sikh.
  5. Students under the age of eighteen must be accompanied by parents/guardians/caregivers when discussing the rules regarding the wearing of a Kirpan. The school superintendent and superintendents with the following portfolio will be made aware:
    i. Safe and Caring Schools
    ii. Equity and Inclusive Education
13. Limitations to Religious Accommodation
The Board is committed to preventing and eradicating within its school community discrimination and harassment based on grounds set out in the Human Rights Commission, including creed. The Board supports freedom of religion and an individual’s right to manifest their religious beliefs and observances. In accordance with the Human Rights Commission, the right to freedom of religion, however, is not absolute. The Board will limit practices or behaviour in its schools which may put public safety, health, or the human rights and freedoms of others at risk. As well, the Board will limit practices or behaviours in its schools that are in violation of other Board policies and procedures.
Appendix A - Religious Accommodation for Meditation and Prayer and Multi-Faith Prayer Space
Appendix B - Religious Accommodation for Meditation and Multi-Faith Prayer Space
Revised November 2022