Tough new standards keep Christian schools hopping

QUEBEC--Despite tightening government regulations, eight Christian schools in Quebec report small but significant developments in their struggle for full recognition.

After years of paperwork and inspections, seven church-based schools affiliated with ACE (Advanced Christian Education) have now received provisional accreditation from the ministry of education.

The schools located in Granby and several Montreal suburbs will soon join about a half dozen other accredited ACE schools in the province.

This is still significantly fewer accredited Christian schools than the 40 that thrived in 1990.

"It's not so much that the individual officials at the ministry are making things more difficult for our schools, it's just that the regulations are becoming increasingly stringent and there are more and more of them," said Joseph Wurtz, ACE's regional team leader for Eastern Canada.

Tougher requirements for certified teachers and facilities have quickly become frustrating for these small schools with an average of only 30 to 40 students.

The seven newly accredited schools made changes after spot inspections by the ministry of education last fall brought media attention to several illegal religious schools. The mood is still cautious at several ACE schools where the staff declined to speak to ChristianWeek.

Besides meeting facility and teacher qualification standards, schools are now required to teaching an evolution component in science class and a new "Ethics and Religious Culture" course which has already caused uproars as the September 2008 date for its enforced application approaches.

Controversial curriculum

The new course made headlines after several people, including the director of the Quebec Association of Catholic Parents, Jean Morse-Chevrier, spoke out against enforcing it in schools. Some Catholic parents are worried about their children being exposed a flexible view of morality, atheistic thinking and the teachings of several cults which are all included in the program. One of the curriculum units covers the UFO-based theology of the Raelien movement.

The objections surfaced in Gatineau during the first evening of public dialogue as part of Quebec's controversial new study of what kinds of religious symbolism should be allowed in public.

Eric Lanthier, director of the ACE-based Academie Chretienne Rive-Nord in Laval, says that evolution, the previous curriculum hot-button issue for religious schools, has been included as an alternate option in the ACE science courses at his school.

But teaching a class on ethics and religious culture isn't anything new for Christian schools.

"It is really far less of an adjustment for us than for the public schools," said Lanthier. "There has been no religious education teaching in those schools for several years, but the second module of the Protestant religious education curriculum we have used for years includes discussions of other faiths and approaches to spirituality."

The Academie was already accredited before the inspections, but Lanthier and his team celebrated another significant step this year.

"After 20 years of existence, and achieving certification several years ago, this year for the first time we have received funding from the provincial government for our primary grades. This has allowed us to reduce our deficit by half," Lanthier explained. "We hope to have good news about funding for our high school program next August."

In the two years since its accreditation the Academie has grown from 45 students to 190.

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