From The Ottawa Citizen
Muslims want children excused from music, mixed phys-ed classes
By Nick Martin, Winnipeg Freepress
February 5, 2011
The school division has alerted Education Minister Nancy Allen about the situation because music and phys-ed are compulsory in the province’s elementary schools. Photograph by Max Whittaker/The New York Times XX
WINNIPEG — A dozen Muslim families who recently arrived in Canada have told Winnipeg’s Louis Riel School Division that they want their children excused from compulsory elementary school music and coed physical education programs for religious and cultural reasons.
“This is one of our realities in Manitoba now, as a result of immigration,” said superintendent Terry Borys. “We were faced with some families who were really adamant about this. Music was not part of the cultural reality.”
Borys said the school division has alerted Education Minister Nancy Allan about the situation since music and phys-ed are compulsory in the province’s elementary schools.
There have been no issues so far with children of middle-school or high-school age, he said.
The families accept physical education, as long as the boys and girls have separate classes, but do not want their children exposed to singing or the playing musical instruments, Borys said. The division has suggested they could instead do a writing project to satisfy the music requirements of the arts curriculum.
However, a local Muslim leader says there is no reason for young kids to be held out of music or phys-ed classes based on religious and cultural grounds.
“Who is advising them? My first concern would be who are these new immigrants talking to?” said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services. “This is the first time I am hearing this; I’m not very happy about it.”
Siddiqui said there is no problem with elementary-school children taking coed phys-ed, at least “not with little kids under the age of puberty.”
She said when some middle-school and high-school students have asked not to mix genders, they have been accommodated by schools.
Siddiqui acknowledged that music can be an issue — but only for a few people.
“Music is controversial in our community; this is a North American phenomenon,” she said. “There is a minority view that music is forbidden. (That view) is not accepted by the majority.”
Borys said that there had been one or two requests for kids to be excused previously, but this year a dozen families came forward at six schools.
Borys said that school division contacted a member of the Islamic community whom the parents suggested, consulted the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and looked at what other jurisdictions are doing about accommodation, particularly Ontario.
The division is trying to figure out what issues might arise when the children enter junior high or high school, he said.
Music is optional beyond Grade 6, but phys-ed is coed right through Grade 12.
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