In Ontario, where Catholic schools receive public funding, you would think there’d be limits to how much Catholicism can be imposed upon the students.
Now a student is putting that very idea to the test.
In April of 2020, when Dasha Kandaharian was a junior at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic High School (part of the York Catholic District School District), she was chosen to be a “student trustee.” It’s an honorary role that gives her a voice at Ontario school board meetings and comes with a stipend. It’s one of those positions offered to students who have shown tremendous leadership potential, and Kandaharian certainly had a stellar high school resume.
“I have an interest in business, law and politics and I thought that becoming a student trustee would expose me to these fields,” she said. “I also wanted to give something back to my school community. They’ve done a lot for me, I’ve learned a lot from them.”
But the York Catholic District School Board soon kicked her out of the position. She hadn’t done anything wrong. They just told her she couldn’t be a student trustee because she wasn’t Catholic. She was an Orthodox Christian.
Why was she attending this school, then? Because “she had access to a school bus,” liked the school’s values, and appreciated that there were a lot of non-Catholic students who attended. In Ontario, that thinking isn’t unusual in the least.
Now, with the help of a legal group working for free and a separate non-profit legal aid group, Kandaharian is suing the Board, saying the policy runs afoul of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The case, if successful, could have implications for other boards with similar policies, and it raises interesting questions about restrictions the publicly funded boards in Ontario can put in place to exclude their many non-Catholic students. It follows a similar situation in April in Halton, where a Muslim student started a petition after she, too, was denied a chance at trustee.
Allison Williams, a staff lawyer at Justice For Children and Youth, said the team will argue this violates the right to equality under Section 15 of the Charter, and “that it is outside of the legal authority of the board, the authority given to them under the Education Act.”
I won’t pretend that I know anything about Canadian law, but it really doesn’t make much sense for a publicly funded Catholic school board to exclude a non-Catholic student from any position that doesn’t directly involve the faith itself. By all accounts, Kandaharian is a model student who would be perfect in the role of a student trustee.
Yet this Board would rather have a mediocre Catholic student in the trustee role than an extraordinary non-Catholic student. And to what end? What value are they trying to uphold here that a non-Catholic student would absolutely tarnish? There isn’t one!
This is more like the problem with religion writ large: They’re sticking to their playbook even though common sense would point in a completely different direction. They don’t have a good excuse for it other than… but that’s what the rule says. And it’s going to be especially hard for them to defend their decision because the student in question has done everything right. It’s just a totally avoidable self-own on the part of the Board.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Matt for the link)