Friday March 26, 2010

Quebec Bishops Condemn Province’s Bid to Cut Christmas, Weekends from School Calendar

By Patrick B. Craine

QUEBEC CITY, Quebec, March 26, 2010 ( – Cardinal Marc Ouellet and the Quebec bishops have flatly condemned a decree issued last month by the Quebec Ministry of Education that threatens to remove weekends and holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, from the school calendar.

The provision, issued on February 3rd by Minister of Education Michelle Courchesne, sought to quietly repeal article 19 of the province’s pedagogical plan, which lists the guaranteed days off for students.

Under the Ministry’s provision, which would take effect July 1st but has yet to be approved by the government, schools would need to fulfill a set number of hours rather than days. Elementary schools would have to spend 720 hours per school year on the core curriculum, and secondary schools must devote 648 hours to compulsory subjects.

The minister says the move was fuelled by the request of Jewish private schools seeking to hold classes on Sundays in order to meet the mandatory provincial curriculum while also offering their religious education program.

The plan has met widespread anger, and has been denounced by such groups as the opposition Parti Quebecois, teachers’ unions, the Association of Quebec Catholic Parents, and the Quebec Assembly of Catholic Bishops.

Minister Courchesne has argued that article 19 is superfluous because the holidays are covered by provincial labour norms and teachers’ collective agreements. She has said it is “outrageous” to suggest they are attempting to force kids into school on those days.

But her plan could nevertheless have a widespread effect on the Quebec educational system. Columnists have pointed out, for example, that it threatens the province’s popular specialty schools that offer enriched programs in such areas as music, dance, sports, or the arts. These schools have been able to focus on their particular area by compressing the province’s mandated curriculum into less time, but this won’t be possible if hours are counted rather than days.

Bishop Martin Veillette, president of the Quebec Assembly of Catholic Bishops, has argued that article 19 should be given greater prominence, rather than being repealed.

In a March 12th letter to the Minister, the Trois-Rivières bishop said the article should be “formulated in a more precise way to better highlight its significance and importance.” Writing in French, he said the calendar of holidays “carries strong significance in terms of the social, familial, cultural, patrimonial and, for many citizens, the religious.”

Noting the Minister’s argument that the holidays are covered by labor norms, he pointed out that it is important to recognize these days specifically for the students, who are not covered under such norms.

“The five day week is an important social achievement and it is important that, as much as possible, the two weekly days off are the same for all,” he continued. “The school calendar has a major role in structuring society and a considerable impact on the life of families.”

While Saturday and Sunday are not public holidays according to labor laws, he said, Quebec society recognizes the special importance of taking these days off. He noted, for example, that most cultural events occur on weekends. He also brought out the importance of Sunday for Christians as the Lord’s day – a day for rest and family.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, has also condemned the Ministry’s actions. In an article last month for the first Sunday of Lent he decried the secularism in Quebec that has led to this ‘unilateral’ attempt at suppressing Sundays and holy days.

The Ministry’s actions are “yet another education reform [that] adds an additional obstacle to the respect of Sunday,” he said, describing Sunday as “a symbol of Quebec identity that is more important than the crucifix in the National Assembly.”

For this reason, he continued, “I protest in the name of the Catholic Church and I ask the State to revoke this decision that goes against the values of civil society.”

“The role of the state is not to impose values, but rather to respect the values of pluralist society,” he added. “I oppose it not only for religious reasons, but also to protect the family and to leave its Sunday free of work.”

Contact Information

Michelle Courchesne

Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport

Édifice Marie-Guyart

1035, rue De La Chevrotière

16e étage

Québec (Quebec) G1R 5A5

Telephone: 418 644-0664

Fax: 418 646-7551

E-mail: [email protected]