Canadian School Resolves Issue of Sikh Student Wearing Kirpan in Gym Class

BRAMPTON— Principals at a Brampton elementary school recently found themselves dealing with an issue most haven’t wrestled with since a highly publicized human rights case decades ago forced board policy changes.

Administration at Copeland Public School recently met with parents of a Grade 3 student who wanted to wear his kirpan during gym class. Staff were concerned the Sikh ceremonial dagger could pose a safety risk during physical activity.

But the Peel District School Board has operated under policy, since 1992, that permits Sikh students to wear the religious symbol to school and provides administrators with guidelines to allow the knife in schools and take measures that ensure the safety of students and staff.

Back in the early ‘90s a series of human rights and court rulings concluded it is was discriminatory for the Peel board to prevent baptized Sikhs from wearing the ceremonial dagger to school.

The findings didn’t only precipitate policy changes at the Peel board, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District Board and boards across the province were compelled to follow suit.

Despite existing policy, administrators at Copeland were hesitant to allow the eight-year-old to wear the kirpan during phys-ed class. But after a meeting between school staff and the family the principal is satisfied the child can safely wear his kirpan and participate in gym.

The kirpan will be wrapped in cloth and taped to the boy’s body, according to Moreash.

“There was a meeting up at the school and they talked it through and the issue has been resolved,” said Associate Director Scott Moreash. “As per our policy, the student will be allowed to continue to wear his kirpan.”

Male Sikhs are required to wear the kirpan under their religious doctrine. With almost 100,000 Sikhs living in Brampton, according to the most recent census data, the situation isn’t uncommon in local schools.

Often though, these issues come up more frequently when students are a little older, Moreash noted, this youngster has just recently been baptized into the faith.

Copeland is a kindergarten to Grade 5 school that has only been open for two years.

“This is the very first time this issue has come up (at this school),” said Moreash. “Neither the principal nor the vice-principal had dealt with a situation like this before.”

The board’s operating policy offers clear guidelines about allowing kirpans in schools and the steps that must be taken to ensure safety.

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