When he arrived at Valley Park in 2007, principal Nick Stefanoff noticed that hundreds of Muslim students were signing out of school on Friday afternoons in November, when daylight savings pushed the time of congregational prayers into the school day. The local mosque is only 10 minutes away, but students would often disappear for hours.
Mr. Stefanoff revived a program used earlier in the decade, whereby a junior imam from the nearby Islamic Society of Toronto mosque would lead pupils in prayer in the cafeteria while afternoon classes were in session. Pupils who wanted to participate needed a permission slip signed by their parents and were responsible for making up the lessons they missed.
From November to March, the pupils enter the cafeteria segregated by sex, with boys at the front separated from girls at the back. The imam stands at the front with a microphone and begins with a short lesson in English, usually about the importance of discipline or mutual respect, said a parent volunteer, and then leads a prayer in Arabic.
Until a week ago, Valley Park’s three-year policy of accommodating Muslim pupils who wanted to pray during school hours had caused barely a ripple. Then the Canadian Hindu Advocacy complained that it violated a policy banning religious instruction in public schools, which raised a chorus of opposition as well as support.
“We’re doing something that’s working,” Mr. Stefanoff said. “No one in our community has complained. So why is this such a big deal? Of all the things we’ve accomplished, this is one I’m proudest of, and now I’m second-guessing myself. But it is right. I know it’s right."Hard to argue with a guy who "knows" he's right. And that's not the only "accommodation" that Mr. S. feels is correct. Why, it was only two months ago that the Globe and Mail reported that he wants to bring a beloved sport into the neighbourhood--a beloved "South Asian" sport, that is:
But a group of community activists and staff at Valley Park Middle School are working on a $1.7-million plan to give the children of this neighbourhood somewhere else to go.
Led by principal Nickolas Stefanoff, they plan to transform the school’s playground into a community hub that will include a regulation-size cricket field, an attraction sure to draw residents out from the towers.
Cricket isn’t just a sport for many of the neighbourhood’s residents, Mr. Stefanoff says. “It’s a religion.”Question: will menstruating chicks get to take part in this "religion," or will they have to sit quietly at the back of the cricket pitch a la the mosqueteria?