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School prayer policies far reaching in southern Alberta

Posted on December 12, 2013 by Vauxhall Advance

While Horizon School Division wrestles to develop a policy regarding the use of prayer within its schools, other divisions have long-standing practices to fall back on.

“The Lord’s Prayer is actually not offered in our schools. It’s been probably 20 years or more since we had that as a part of our routine. We defer to the family in the area of religious worship,” said Ken Sommerfeldt, superintendent of Westwind School Division.

Horizon School Division serves a diverse population, much like Palliser Regional Schools, whose schools include 17 Hutterian colony schools, 10 Christian alternative schools and a couple of Low German Mennonite alternative programs. Palliser has defined a process for schools to use.

“One of the foundational beliefs and values of the board is that parents are the first educators of kids,” said Pat Rivard, associate superintendent of educational services. “What’s important to our superintendent and ourselves and our board is that public education is a reflection of the community context within which our schools exist.”

Because of diverse populations each community has its own set of values. Communities like Arrowwood may have a variety of faith denominations while communities like Barons may have few. School leaders discuss the matter with their parent community, sometimes at the request of the parent council, to determine an approach that works for everyone.

In Arrowwood School, for example, children who want to participate in prayer at the beginning of the school day go to the school library where they are led in prayer by a staff member. Those who choose not to participate in prayer go to their regular classroom and take part in general activities in the few minutes leading up to the start of school.

“We try to create inclusive environments for both groups,” Rivard said.

As one might expect, prayer plays a role in the district’s Christian schools in Calgary and Christian values are embedded into the curriculum.

Each school has decided, in consultation with their parent communities, how that plays out on a daily basis.

Parents have chosen to enroll their students in Christian schools and Rivard said he can’t recall a situation where a parent wanted to opt out.

“All of our Hutterite Schools are on Hutterite colonies and to be respectful to the culture of the Hutterites and their belief system, the students at Hutterite colonies generally attend, and again it’s different in each of the respective colonies, German class before they attend Palliser school and in their German class they will say prayer,” Rivard said.

In the city, Lethbridge School District No. 51 has one school which participates in prayer, according to Supt. Cheryl Gilmore.

“The only school in Lethbridge 51 that has any prayer or religious ceremony is Lethbridge Christian School, an approved Alternative Program.”

The district’s policy states that religious and patriotic instruction and activities can occur in schools at the discretion of the principal. The principal, in consultation with the school council, may allow students to participate in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

to take part in concerts and activities held to observe seasonal Christian events and religious activities associated with the study of other cultures.

Dave Driscoll, superintendent of the Livingstone Range School Division, said the division has a procedure that directs each school to consult with its parent community when dealing with controversial issues.

“We have no direct policy on the Lord’s Prayer itself,” he said. “We’ve never had anything that’s been brought to the board’s attention as a problem.”

The division, which includes the area bounded by the Crowsnest Pass east to Moon River Estates and from Waterton Lake north to Nanton. The division has no Christian schools and a dozen schools on Hutterite colonies. In the latter, prayers are said as part of German classes. Due to the severe cold weather and schools being closed, the division wasn’t able to touch base with all schools but Driscoll did say one school, after it consulted with parents, does have the Lord’s Prayer recited in some classrooms. Students have the option of not participating.

And, as one might expect, prayer plays a large role in the separate school division.

“As a Catholic school division prayer in itself is integral to what we do on a daily basis,” said Chris Smeaton, superintendent of the Holy Spirit Catholic school division.

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