As you may be aware, District 16 OSSTF challenged the YRDSB policy on Faith Day requests early last year. In fact, the actual concerns about Faith Day requests began three years ago. This has been a long and arduous journey for all of us involved in the grievance and subsequent arbitration. While the policy challenge was addressed by the arbitrator, the group grievance remains a work in progress with discussions occurring weekly about members who took days without pay to observe their faith. We are working on resolutions to those matters and will keep you advised as to our progress and next steps.
The grievance and arbitration process has involved, for your current executive, three years of work. We appreciate the patience of those members who have waited for the outcome as it relates to their specific faith day rights. The arbitrator, Susan Tacon, supported elements of the Federation's position, elements of the Board's position, and clarified elements for both parties.
District 16, as well as our legal counsel, believes we have made considerable gains and set precedent in arbitration for faith related issues.
We feel the following points denote success for the Federation in this matter:
1. The elimination, on all Board forms, of the word "significant" when referencing a faith day -the importance of this change is that the corollary requirement, that the day be one your faith requires to you take off work, is also no longer applicable;
2. The acknowledgement, by the arbitrator, that a belief can be "obligatory or customary objectively or subjectively" observed by a member. In other words, members may observe certain practices as they are required by their faith or they may observe their faith as has been deemed necessary by their own conscience;
3. The use of a Faith Leader to provide additional information is completely at the discretion of the member; and,
4. The Federation maintains its right to grieve.
The arbitrator ruled that the Board retains the right to require that:
1. Teachers use the electronic process, including the use of a Board email account, to submit faith day requests;
2. Teachers state the name of their faith and the name of the faith day for which the request is being submitted.
3. That teachers requesting a faith day meet the following criteria:
- the teacher must hold a sincerely held belief or practice;
- the faith day requested has a nexus (connection) to religion; and,
- should it be sought, teachers provide additional information for purposes of clarification regarding a request and that this information demonstrate the teacher's sincerely held belief (as per #2 in the Federation section above).
NOTE: The information is much more likely to be sought for days not on the drop down menu included on the Faith Days Request Form than for days that are listed.
There remain days for which a faith day request will not be granted under the Board's policy:
1. Substitute or alternative days ( i.e. when the faith day is on a non-work day);
2. Days identified as cultural days; and
3. Faith days for a teacher's spouse or child's religion, if it is different from that of the teacher.
Having said this, we continue to discuss the Board's differentiation between religious days and cultural days as well as interfamily issues.
The decision has resulted in an overhaul of various forms and procedures related to Faith Day requests.
This is a process which requires great care as we work with Board personnel to alter documents which must now by law reflect the arbitrator's decision. This process continues to consume hours of time and within the next few weeks a memo will be going out from both parties which explains the new set of guidelines for Faith Day requests.
By this point you will have likely submitted any faith day requests you needed and we encourage you to do so. For the majority of our members, the process will be very straight forward and easily completed. We urge you to support one another and advise colleagues who encounter difficulties related to faith day requests to contact our office. Branch Presidents will be updated on the faith day issue on October 3rd. As our school communities and our educational workforces become more diverse, there is an on-going need to not only educate ourselves about emerging issues but also to support one another when we believe their inherent rights under the contract and the Ontario Human Rights Code are denied.