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Human Rights Tribunal hearing for Bowen Montessori postponed

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) informed the Bowen Island Montessori School (BIMS) and a local couple who made a complaint against them that a hearing into an alleged case of discrimination has been postponed.

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) informed the Bowen Island Montessori School (BIMS) and a local couple who made a complaint against them that a hearing into an alleged case of discrimination has been postponed. Gary Mangel and Mai Yasue are alleging that the school discriminated against them when they were asked to sign a letter agreeing to fully accept the Montessori philosophy “as utilized and implemented,” as a condition to their daughter’s enrolment during the 2015 school year.

In a recent letter sent out to BIMS parents and The Undercurrent, the board explained that their decision to send the letter was as a response to “aggressive and adversarial communication” on the part of the complainants. They also announced changes in the school’s policy: revising the parent-student contract, the hiring of an administrator to act as a conduit between parents and teaching staff, and having meetings with parents prior to enrolment “to ensure that BIMS is the right fit for their family.”

Mangel and Yasue had made a number of suggestions and complaints about the school’s curriculum based on the celebration of religious holidays and use of cultural symbols in the classroom. Among other things, they suggested the creation of a diversity statement and asked for changes that would create “a more neutral place for different types of families with different religious or political beliefs in their homes.”
Clea Parfitt, the lawyer for the complainants, says that while a school’s curriculum must not privilege the beliefs of some children and their families over others, this case is not about the BIMS curriculum.

“In being asked to sign the letter agreeing to all aspects of their philosophy as it was implemented, we believe my clients were singled out because of the cultural concerns they raised throughout the previous year,” says Parfitt. “To prove discrimination, my clients will have to show, among other things, that there was a relationship between their race, religion or political beliefs and being asked to sign the letter. BIMS will be found to discriminate unless they can prove that requiring my clients to sign the letter was reasonable, and that there was no way to protect their legitimate interests short of this.”

Parfitt, goes on to say that while a new hearing date is not likely to be set until sometime after June of 2017, the issues at hand will remain relevant.

“Based on the latest policy update,” says Parfitt. “I would say these issues are even more relevant now than when all of this started. BIMS’ new approach is to prevent people who do not “fit” into their philosophy from registering because they do not agree with how religious or cultural aspects of the curriculum will be covered. This means that families that have different types of beliefs, and talk about those beliefs or refuse to hide their differences, will be barred from the school. BIMS is a good school in many ways that everyone should have access to, regardless of their religion, culture, value system or race.”

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