York Region teenager wins landmark case against school board

A York Region teenager has won a landmark lawsuit against the York Catholic District School Board after it barred her from running as a school trustee because of her religion.

« It hasn’t really hit me yet, » said Dasha Kandaharian, 17, now a freshman at York University’s Schulich School of Business.

Kandaharian was in grade 12 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic High School in Aurora last year when she filed a lawsuit against the YCDSB. The school board had barred her from running for the position of student trustee two years earlier when she was in Grade 10 because she is an Orthodox Christian — not a Catholic.

She and the nonprofit legal aid clinic Justice for Children and Youth argued that the board’s policy requiring students running for office to be Catholic was a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A recent decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice agreed with them.

“The role of school trustee has no connection with the rights or privileges held by Catholic separate schools at the time of Confederation and the prospect of non-Catholic students representing a Catholic school as a school trustee would have no detrimental effect on such a right. or privilege even if it existed at the time,” the decision read.

Student trustees represent the voice of students in school board decisions about education.

While Kandaharian’s case implicated the YCDSB, other students from nearby Catholic school boards served as witnesses and documented their own struggles trying to present themselves as student counselors as non-Catholics.

« (The students involved in the case) have much to be proud of – to have identified the injustice and to have done something to try to make their school a better place, » said Allison Williams, a lawyer at of Justice For Children and Youth. “They showed great courage and tenacity. It was really inspiring for us.

Williams hopes the ruling, which she calls a precedent, will motivate other Catholic boards in the province with similar policies to « preemptively review and amend them » in accordance with the court’s finding, « and in the promotion of children’s rights”.

According to the ruling, there are approximately 5,000 non-Catholic students enrolled at the YCDSB alone. « The 5,000 students who are non-Catholic constitute a significant group who are not treated as full members of the student body or the school community, » it read.

Elizabeth Crowe, president of the YCDSB, said the board « is very disappointed with the decision of the Ontario Superior Court. »

« Student trustees hold important positions in the governance of constitutionally protected Catholic school boards and the board believed that they should hold the same qualifications with respect to Catholicity as duly elected Catholic trustees, » he said. she said in a statement emailed to the Star. « The York Catholic DSB is reviewing the decision to determine next steps. »

Raghad Barakat, a freshman humanities student at the University of Toronto, had a similar experience at Kandaharian last spring when, as a Muslim student at St. Francis Xavier Catholic High School in Milton, she was refused the opportunity to stand as curator.

Barakat called the Halton Catholic District School Board’s policy « a little contradictory, » especially since they have another policy that states the board will « identify, review, and remove all barriers that exist that prevent effective school relationships. » – fully participatory communities, including barriers associated with any systemic discrimination.

This experience led her to testify in the Kandaharian case, alongside Rushan Jeyakumar, a current 12th grade student at Michael Power-St. Joseph High School of the Toronto Catholic District School Board who was unable to run for school trustee in grade 10 because he is Hindu.

« I was in a state of shock and happiness, » Barakat said, after learning of the court’s decision in the middle of a class. She immediately ran out to call her parents and share the news. “It was so rewarding to hear. Finally, (non-Catholic) students can get the opportunities they deserve.

Jeyakumar was equally thrilled to hear the news, telling the Star that he hopes his school board and others like him see this decision and implement changes to their policies, especially since the students are students, regardless of their religious beliefs.

“There really isn’t a difference. Religion should not be a barrier to access.


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