Hamilton pro-family group helps parents know their rights

The recent lobbying by the Ontario public teachers union to introduce homosexuality-oriented books into schools has prompted heightened parent interest in a Declaration of Family Rights document that seeks to protect children from negative moral influences at school.

The Hamilton-Wentworth Family Action Council created the document in November 1999 mainly as a response to what it saw as permissive sexual education being directed at students. Since then, the document has spread to be used among 14 different school jurisdictions, and several Christian denominations have requested copies for distribution among their congregations.

Use of the document has also been promoted on the popular radio broadcasts of Pastor Fletcher Brothers, head of the Freedom Village ministry to youth, and interest has been expressed by the Ontario Parents Council.

HWFAC president Phil Lees says that although most parents are calling the family-rights document “wonderful and fantastic,” some are worried about aggravating teachers who might then treat their children differently or more harshly than normal. Nonetheless, “There has been an increased amount of interest in the document since the elementary teachers federation announced its decision to lobby school boards on gay books,” he says.

The document, intended to be inserted in a student’s school file, encompasses subjects including family life and human sexuality issues, religious indoctrination (which is defined as including moral relativism and situational ethics), and medical treatment.

“We know that occultic principles and practices sometimes come through in some of the literature kids get,” says Lees. “Another concern is about environmental worship. Terms such as ‘Mother Earth,’ and other phrases and symbols, are part of many New Age religions. As well, within environmental programs, there is talk about population issues. Often, kids start to feel guilty because they’re taking up space on this earth.”

Regarding medical treatment, Lees says parents don’t want their children undergoing procedures such as abortions without their knowledge and consent.

Original research for the document was conducted by Ontario lawyer Geoff Caucchi, whose work was ultimately distilled down to an item that parents could use as a “communication tool” with their children’s educators.

“Families don’t realize the rights they have in legislation,” says Lees. “The Supreme Court has stated that parents have priority rights over their children, and they delegate authority to the school board or teacher … The parent can delegate it, and the parent can take it away.”

Predictably, the Declaration of Family Rights received a negative response from Hamilton public school officials when it was introduced. The educators went so far as to suggest parents don’t, in fact, have priority rights over their children.

“That created a bit of conflict,” recalled Lees. “We, as the HWFAC, had no problems with what the Ministry of Education prescribed students should learn. What we did have problems with was when school boards went beyond those recommendations, such as getting into graphic parts of sexually transmitted diseases.”

Attempts by the HWFAC to obtain a meeting with Hamilton public school board officials over the implementation of the document were ignored for about a year, before the council was told the document had to be revised before it could be accepted. Subsequent attempts to hold meetings with school board officials over revision of the document were also ignored.

At one point, superintendent of education Krys Croxal sent a letter to parents discouraging their use of the document. Croxal said the document “is not conducive to the education of the child,” “the Ministry of Education prescribes the course of study that shall be taught,” and “No religion is promoted” in public schools.

But Lees counters that the secular humanism dominating public education is itself a religion. “Religion is the set of principles we use to make moral decisions … Judeo-Christian principles have been replaced by secular humanistic principles. So, in our school systems, we are teaching religion.”

Although the HWFAC was not successful in getting the document included in students’ school files, it is being inserted into a correspondence file. Either way, it can still be used as a valuable point of communication by parents, who often say they don’t feel confident or effective in talking to their children’s educators.

“If parents take these communication tools to school boards, they will help the boards become sensitized to the needs of people in their communities,” says Lees.

There are hopes of creating a registry of students using the document. A large number of registrations would allow groups such as the HWFAC to better lobby Ministry of Education officials on relevant issues.

Lees says the moral concerns of parents with children in Hamilton public schools is being aided by the fact that, as the culmination of a seven-year trend, 44 per cent of eligible students are now eschewing public schools in favour of Catholic or private ones. And experiences such as that of one nine-year-old Hamilton-area girl fuel the exodus.

As Lees recounts, the girl was recently told by both her teacher and principal that she couldn’t use her Bible as part of silent-reading class. The controversy is now before senior school board management, which is struggling over how to deal with the situation.