The Public Schools Act states that public schools shall be non-sectarian. Religious exercises may only be conducted where a petition asking for such exercises (signed by the parents/guardians of 75% of the students in the case of a school having fewer than 80 students or by the parents/guardians of at least 60 students in schools having an enrolment of 80 or more students) is presented to the school board.
Legislative Reference – The Public Schools Act, Section 84(1), (8) Manitoba Regulation 554/88, Sections 1, 3, 4(2), 4(3)
Religious Exercises are to be conducted in a particular school only after the requirements of subsection 84(8) of The Public Schools Act have been met, a petition has been directed to the local school board, and the school board instructs that school to make the necessary arrangements.
Once religious exercises are instituted by petition in a school, only those children whose parents/guardians have signed the petition may participate (opt-in process is required). Petitions respecting religious exercises must be received by the school board each school year, and be on a school by school basis.
Teachers and other staff are not compelled to conduct or supervise religious exercises. Participation by staff must be voluntary. If teachers and other staff are unwilling to conduct or supervise such exercises, alternate arrangements must be made. This may involve requesting members of the parents’ group petitioning for the exercises to conduct the activity themselves. The principal will be responsible for determining the appropriate supervisory arrangements.
Where petitioned, religious exercises are to be held each teaching day, and shall be no longer than ten minutes in duration. The exercises are not to be held during regular instructional time. Instructional time is to be preserved and religious exercises held either prior to the start of the school day or during noon recess.
The Public School Act allows for religious instruction in schools. This is reflected in The Public Schools Act, Sections 80-83. Instruction in religion may be conducted in any school in Manitoba if authorized by a by-law passed by the school board. It is important to note that there is a distinction between religious instruction and religious exercises.
School boards are required to pass a by-law authorizing religious instruction if a petition is presented to the school board. The parents or guardians of at least 10 children attending a school having one or two classrooms must sign the petition. For a school having three or more classrooms the parents or guardians of at least 25 children attending the school must sign the petition.
Authorized religious instruction, may take place during school hours and on such days as approved by the school board by-law, but shall not exceed 2 ½ hours per week. The instruction shall be conducted by a clergyman, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leader or by a representative of parents recognized by the school board as constituting a religious group or by any person including a teacher, duly authorized by such clergyman, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leader.
Where the parent or guardian of a pupil who is under the age of majority does not want the child to participate in the religious instructions or where an age of majority student does not want to participate in the religious instruction, they must be excused from participating therein.