Legal advice has prompted the Chilliwack school board to reconsider its regulation allowing free Bibles to be given out at local public schools, according to a Ministry of Education spokesperson.
The regulation, which states the board "approves the distribution of Gideon Youth Testaments to Grade 5 pupils with parental consent," came under fire from local parent Richard Ajabu two weeks ago after his daughter was handed a permission form for one of the free Bibles at Sardis elementary.
He said the Gideons' activity in Chilliwack public schools violates the B.C. School Act, which states schools must be "strictly secular and nonsectarian."
The school district has since sought legal advice on the matter, according to Ministry of Education spokesperson Scott Sutherland, and will discuss its policy in light of that advice at its next public meeting Nov. 13.
Superintendent Evelyn Novak and trustees had discussed Ajabu's concerns at an informal closed-door meeting last week but decided to leave the regulation as is at that time. That prompted Ajabu to write a letter to Education Minister Don McRae Monday, calling on him to step in and get the Bibles out of Chilliwack schools.
But that won't happen, according to Sutherland, who said school boards have autonomy when it comes to materials distributed at schools, as long as their policies don't violate the School Act.
If Ajabu isn't satisfied Chilliwack's policy is living up to the law, the education minister wouldn't step in.
"That would be a matter for the courts to decide," Sutherland said. "If the complainant feels that the board is in the wrong in its policy, then it would be up to him to get a legal opinion."
Chilliwack school board chair Louise Piper wouldn't comment on what legal advice the board got or what recommendations will be brought forward at the meeting.
"The board will not be answering any questions at this time as this matter will be before the board at the regular public board meeting on Nov. 13," she told the Times.
Ajabu's complaints, meanwhile, have drawn impassioned support and opposition in a flood of letters to the editor and in online comments.
The Nov. 13 meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the school district office, 8430 Cessna Dr. The agenda for the meeting will be available on the school district's website, www.sd33.bc.ca, on Friday afternoon, Nov. 9.
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