Chassidic schools in Outremont are in the spotlight again, following an announcement by Quebec’s Education Minister Yves Bolduc that he will stop government subsidies of what he calls “illegal” schools. Bolduc made the announcement after he was interviewed for a program which recently aired on CBC, Canada’s public broadcasting network, during which he was asked some tough questions about the issue.
The program portrayed chassidic children living in Quebec as being deprived of a basic education, something the interviewer said should be the right of every Quebec child.
Not all chassidic schools face the same issue. A majority of them are legal institutions that receive funding from the government. The government maintains that its regulations are not being followed, and as a result, the children are not being schooled according to the laws of Quebec. In fact, they modify the secular curriculum, and this is the basis for the government saying its regulations are not being followed.
Last summer, the Department of Education threatened to close four chassidic schools due to their teachers not having secular training, as well as their lack of science and computer labs.
In 2008, the Quebec government made an important change to its curriculum, adding a new course on religion, known as the ECR (Ethics and Religious Culture). This course covers different religions and is compulsory in both private and public schools in Quebec. The problem facing chassidic schools, both those that are registered and receive government funding and those that are considered illegal, has been further exacerbated by the ECR course.
The communities of Satmar and Tosh made a decision not to request school funding from Quebec’s government so that they would not be forced to follow a curriculum that goes against basic Jewish values. These schools are considered illegal by the government.
Bolduc was confronted as to why Quebec’s government has not done anything concrete about the issue, despite promises to do so during the past eight years. He admitted that the issue was troubling, and said he would do whatever he could to ensure that all children in Quebec receive the education they are entitled to.
True to his word, on Wednesday, Bolduc announced that he would stop funding “illegal” religious schools. “We have to close them; they are illegal, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
“What is important is that the students have to have a very good education, and they must acquire the knowledge that is necessary.”
The schools Bolduc seems to be referring to are the majority of chassidic schools that are registered with the government and that do receive funding. He has not addressed the issue of the schools that are not registered with the government and whose children also do not follow its mandatory curriculum.