The Chilliwack school board is getting ready to discuss a regulation that one parent has said endorses "religious marketing" in local schools.
Richard Ajabu said his daughter, who attends Sardis elementary, came home with a glossy colour brochure from Gideons International, an evangelical Protestant association that has handed out free bibles to Canadian Grade 5 public school students since 1946.
The brochure, which doubles as a parent consent form for kids to receive a free bible, states "It is often in grade five that a child begins asking the big questions of life: what is right and wrong, what is the purpose of life, and what happens when we die" and includes a picture of the Gideon testament, which features a red cover with pictures of smiling children above the title "Answer Book."
The brochure also includes the Gideons website address.
"My child was given religious marketing material with a photo of a free gift (attractive red "answer book" plastered with smiling kids), intriguing (and potentially frightening) questions, branding and graphic art," wrote Ajabu in an email sent to District Parent Advisory Council president Gord Byers, and forwarded to the Times and school officials. "My child was not given a plain parent consent form from her teacher/school; her teacher/school gave her religious marketing material that also had two lines for parental consent. My daughter received, read and was influenced by the religious marketing material given to her by her teacher/school without the informed consent of her parents."
Ajabu was surprised and concerned to find out the distribution of Gideon testaments to Grade 5 students is endorsed by School District No. 33 administrative regulation 518, which states, "The Board approves the distribution of Gideon Youth Testaments to Grade 5 pupils with parental consent."
"Imagine how Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and children of other religions feel knowing that SD33 give preferential access to Christian marketing?" wrote Ajabu. "I can imagine that some FN families might not appreciate this kind of indoctrination of their children either_residential school wounds still trying to heal."
Ajabu wants the program to stop and the regulation to be rescinded, but he said the distribution of the brochure/parental consent form even goes against the regulation as it stands now.
"It does not allow the distribution of religious marketing materials to students either before or after parental consent has been received," he wrote. "It also only approves of the distribution of the book to students; it does not approve of pulling students out of their classrooms to attend a presentation about the book or any other instruction about the book."
Ajabu's complaint will be discussed at the next school board meeting Oct. 23, according to vice-chair Walt Krahn.
"The board listens to feedback and considers the interests of all students and community when it contemplates changes to its policies and regulations," he said in an email to the Times. "The board will work with the superintendentto determine any changes to this regulation."
Chilliwack is one of a handful of B.C. school districts that still hands out the Gideon testaments, and controversy around the bibles is not new.
Officials in the Bluewater District School Board in southern Ontario faced a furious backlash when they banned the practice there in April.
The school board meeting starts at 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 at the school district office (8430 Cessna Drive).