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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

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New Quebec gov’t may crack down on ‘illegal’ chassidic schools

Tags: Canada
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Yves Bolduc

MONTREAL — Quebec’s new education minister appears to be ready to take a tough stance against chassidic schools that continue to not comply with the law.

In response to questions, Yves Bolduc told reporters on April 30 that the government will cut subsidies to any such schools and take legal action to close them if that doesn’t work.

“What is important is that the students have to have a very good education, and they must acquire the knowledge that is necessary,” he said before entering a cabinet meeting at the National Assembly.

“The bottom line is that a Quebec schoolchild must receive the courses prescribed in the law.”

The issue of “illegal” Jewish schools has been raised again in the Quebec media after a couple that left the Tash chassidic community in Boisbriand told Radio-Canada that one of the main reasons was the inadequate secular schooling their children received.

The Lev Tahor sect’s flight from Ste. Agathe to Chatham, Ont., last November has also put chassidic schools under renewed scrutiny. Its leaders cited an inability to conform to Quebec’s mandatory school curriculum because it conflicts with their religious beliefs as the prime factor for the departure.

About a half-dozen chassidic schools have been under scrutiny by the education department since at least 2006. Bolduc’s Liberal predecessor Michelle Courchesne spent years in negotiation with the schools to try to find a way they could abide by the law. She issued an ultimatum that they would be taken to court if they did not.

In 2010, the government obtained a court injunction to shut down the 60-year-old Toras Moshe Academy, a boys’ elementary school under Satmar auspices. That case is still under appeal.

The schools say they don’t fully teach the mandatory curriculum because it either is at odds with their religious beliefs or, especially in the case of boys, so much time must be devoted to Jewish studies.

Some schools have also been found to employ uncertified teachers or to even have no permit to operate. Not all receive public funding. Nevertheless, every school must abide by the law.

Alex Werzberger, president of the Coalition of Chassidic Organizations of Outremont, is outraged, but more by certain media than by Bolduc.

Werzberger said most schools have done what they can to abide by the law, but some things are not negotiable. These include teaching the theory of evolution, certain works of literature and the prescribed “Ethics and Religious Culture” course, which teaches about other faiths and is mandatory for both elementary and high school students.

Nevertheless, he bristles at the description of any school as “illegal.” 

“There are no crooks here. No one is clandestinely holding classes in a basement,” he said.

He said the chassidic communities have not received any new directive from the Liberal government, which took office last month.

Werzberger believes some reporters were trying to corner Bolduc into saying what they wanted to hear.

“He also said to them that he’s only six days on the job, that he doesn’t know the file that well, and to get back to him in three or four weeks.”

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