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Father sues Ontario school board for not accommodating his religious beliefs

A Hamilton-area father is taking his local school board to court, accusing teachers of failing to accommodate his family's Christian beliefs.

Steve Tourloukis, a dentist and follower of the Greek Orthodox Church, has a daughter in Grade 1 and a son in Grade 4 at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board. He says that teachers at his children's school have dismissed his requests for advance notice whenever they discuss family, marriage and sexuality in the classroom.

He would like the warning in order to determine whether he should coach his children ahead of the lesson, or pull them from the classroom altogether.

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"My children are my own. I own them. They don't belong to the school board," Dr. Tourloukis said.

He dismissed the idea of sending his children to a private or Catholic school.

"Why should I send my children to another school?" he said. "I pay my taxes…I don't see why somebody else's discrimination should cause me, should influence where I send my children. Not in a free country. Not in Canada."

Dr. Tourloukis told reporters Monday that the school board had rejected his requests to have his children withdrawn on the basis that it discriminated against other students. He filed a lawsuit against the board on Friday. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

The school board's director of education, John Malloy, said he couldn't discuss the specifics of the case, but said broad requests for religious accommodation were relatively rare. It's more common for parents to request specific accommodations around a section of a course such as sex ed.

Broad requests for accommodation may impact other students – who would like to discuss spending the day at the park with their two dads, for example – and are much more problematic.

"It's imperative that any accommodation doesn't hurt someone else in that classroom who has a right to be accepted," Mr. Malloy said.

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The board's religious accommodation policy states that schools should "study what all people believe, but should not teach a student what to believe."

Education Minister Laurel Broten said the government took the politics out of creating the curriculum by asking an expert panel to help draft it in 2003.

"We really focus on vetting a number of key components across all of our grades," Ms. Broten told reporters on Monday.

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More


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