High school, university “not priorities for the way we live”

ROXTON FALLS, QC—A Mennonite community forced to shut down its school because it didn't meet provincial requirements says it has different priorities for children when it comes to education.

Quebec's Ministry of Education ordered the school of 11 closed because its curriculum didn't meet provincial standards and its teachers weren't certified.

Although media coverage of the conflict has focused on teacher qualifications and the handling of specific curriculum topics like evolution and sex education, the community members say they have very different priorities for their children than the education department does.

"According to their standards, our children need to be in school until they are 16 and following a course of studies that keep further educational and career options open. These are not priorities for the way we live," Ronald Goosen, one of the community leaders told ChristianWeek.

"Our lifestyle is not one that requires or places great value on advanced academics. We do not offer our children education beyond Grade 9. In the past many of our children have followed their parents in agricultural living" explains Goosen, one of four members of the community earning a living with a hog farm.

"As agriculture becomes increasingly capital intensive, more of our young members have turned to other trades and small businesses—carpentry, carpet laying, construction and even small tool rental and bulk food outlets."

In June the ministry of education told parents and community leaders they could face legal sanctions including losing custody of their children if they didn't close their school.

So the Mennonite families are pulling up their roots and looking for more accommodating soil. Some are moving to sister communities in Ontario and New Brunswick.

The school's Grade 1 to 7 students had been following a standardized program used with more than 4500 children in Mennonite community schools across North America. The instructors shared teaching methods and approaches with similar Mennonite schools following a basic teaching style that has served the communities well for a long time.

"We have both a wider North American curriculum committee and a local group that oversee the content of our curriculum," says Goosen. He says matching their curriculum to the requirements of public education systems isn't a particular concern for their communities.

Despite the concern expressed by the province's youth protection department over the community's lifestyle and its educational decisions, local residents in the town of 1,300 people who spoke to the media unanimously praised the Mennonite families for their quiet and ordered lifestyle.

Several said the group was not a weird trouble-making sect, but rather appreciated and industrious neighbors who were welcomed in the community.

The school will not be opening in September, but community leaders are applying for official recognition.

If that fails, the Mennonite families with children who have already left will likely make their temporary relocation a permanent one.

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