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Education Board won’t appeal ruling exempting Catholic students from mass

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has said she will preserve funding for the Catholic school system.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

An Ontario Catholic school board will not appeal a recent court decision that exempted a high-school student from attending his school's religious liturgies and retreats.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, west of Toronto, said the Ontario Superior Court ruling will not significantly impact its education system or the "Catholic nature of our schools."

"The cultural architecture of our school remains intact," John Kostoff, the board's director of education, said in a statement Wednesday. "It is not possible for a student in our system to somehow receive a secular education devoid of Catholic influences simply by being exempted from a few courses, or by not attending liturgies or the occasional retreat. All of our courses contain an infused, woven, Christian perspective. Catholic education does not reside in any one subject alone, but rather in the total expression of our schools."

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A panel of three judges recently ruled that non-Catholic high-school students who previously attended a secular elementary school have the option of being exempted from attending mass and retreats.

Parent Oliver Erazo had enrolled his sons, Jonathan and Amilcar, at Notre Dame in Brampton, because he felt it was the best school in the area. Amilcar has since graduated.

Mr. Erazo had arranged for his son, Jonathan, not to attend religion courses at the school. His recent court victory to exempt his son from liturgies and retreats could set a precedent for Ontario families who want their children to attend Catholic high-schools but not participate in any religious programming.

The school board had 15 days to respond to the court decision.

In its response Wednesday, the school board said the decision would not impact its elementary schools or Catholic secondary school students. Nor would it have any impact its Catholic curriculum, the board said.

Students in Ontario are not allowed to attend Catholic elementary schools unless they are of that particular faith. But an open-access policy at the high-school level means everyone has the right to attend any publicly-funded secondary school, including Catholic ones, regardless of religious belief.

The court ruling once again flared up a long-running debate between proponents of Catholic education and those who contend it would be more cost effective to have a single public education system. If Dufferin-Peel appealed the decision, it would have further provoked the debate.

The board contends that the majority of its secondary school schools are Catholic and will continue with their religious studies courses, as well as attending liturgies and retreats. The court's ruling can only be used by open-access students who request an exemption.

Mr. Kostoff said the board will monitor the situation and "take appropriate action when and where required."

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