Toronto Star
January 24, 2009

Nicholas Keung
Immigration/Diversity Reporter

Teachers of Chinese descent employed by the York Region District School Board have been told they can’t take a paid day off on Monday’s Chinese New Year’s Day unless they are Buddhists.

The board’s policy to accommodate religious but not cultural observances is consistent with most of its counterparts in Greater Toronto. However, the Toronto District School Board offers employees five to six “discretionary days” that allow members to take paid time off for both religious and cultural purposes, including the Lunar New Year.

The York board offers employees five similar discretionary days but they are restricted for religious observances and sick leave only. It upsets its non-Buddhist members who, like the world’s Chinese diasporas, consider the Lunar New Year the most significant holiday of the year.

“The board’s own calendar recognizes Lunar New Year as a significant holiday that schools should not have meetings or exams on that day, so students can take the day off if they wish to,” said one of three teachers, who complained to the Star. “Why does it not apply to its employees?”

Through consultations with groups such as the Ontario Multifaith Council, unions and other school boards, the York board identified 148 significant faith days beyond the existing holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Labour Day, when practitioners are required to be away for religious obligations, said board spokesperson Ross Virgo.

Last year board employees took 6,000 such faith days. “Our goal is to accommodate as best we can to allow people to celebrate their religion and faith, and at the same time to balance our needs to provide ongoing services to our students,” exlained Virgo, who confirmed Chinese students can take Lunar New Year’s Day off as an “approved absent” with parental request.

Referring to the recognition of religious days as opposed to cultural days, Chris D’Souza, a member of the Equity Summit Group, a coalition of equity officers from 18 Ontario school boards said the matter still lacks a clear position.

“It’s a grey area to define,” he said.

Reference: Toronto Star