John Tory backpedals after saying creationism can be taught in schools

Financement public des écoles confessionnelles

CAROLINE ALPHONSO - THORNHILL, ONT. -- Christian private schools should be allowed to teach creationism if they receive public funding, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said yesterday.
But six hours later, he went into damage-control mode, saying creationism should be explored only in religion class and not elsewhere in the curriculum, such as in science class.
"The Christian-based school would have to teach the Ontario curriculum," Mr. Tory told reporters in defending his plan to fund religious schools. "They teach evolution in the Ontario curriculum, but they also could teach the fact to the children that there are other theories that people have out there that are part of some Christian beliefs."
Mr. Tory, a member of the United Church, said that if he is elected premier on Oct. 10, private religious schools could opt in to the public system provided they are subject to provincial inspections. But they would still be allowed to teach their core beliefs.
His remarks quickly drew fire from the Liberal government.
Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, who is running against Mr. Tory in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West, accused him of not thinking through his campaign pledge.
"The reason that private schools exist is that they don't want to be part of the publicly funded system ... We allow that in Ontario. We allow that freedom," Ms. Wynne said in an interview.
"In terms of public dollars, those public dollars should go into a curriculum that has been agreed upon as being the one that is the best for our kids and is rooted in science and is rooted in evidence."
The creation-evolution debate has been a perennial theme in the U.S. education system, where Christian groups want creationism taught in the classroom over evolution. Creationists reject the Darwinian evolution theory, and believe that every word in the Book of Genesis is literally true.
Roman Catholic schools, who come under Ontario's public education umbrella, do explore creationism, but only in religion class. Evolution is taught elsewhere in the curriculum.
In clarifying his remarks yesterday, Mr. Tory said: "The Ontario curriculum teaches evolution and that is the curriculum that would have to be taught in the faith-based and all other schools that receive public funding. There are other theories that can be taught as part of religious instruction ... But the curriculum is the curriculum."
Mr. Tory has released few details of his plan to extend funding to private religious schools. He is leaving that up to a commission that won't meet until after the election.
Still, the issue has dominated the agenda even before the campaign officially kicks off Monday. Mr. Tory wants to extend taxpayer funding to all religious schools, not just Roman Catholic ones - a move Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said would threaten the stability of the public education system.
On the unofficial campaign trail yesterday, Mr. Tory lashed out at critics, saying this is not the time for fear mongering. He said that he envisions one school bus picking up children on a particular street and dropping them off to different schools.
"I also want to see a day when these kids from the faith-based schools are playing basketball with the kids in the public school," he said at the Kamin Education Centre, a private Jewish school.
"And I ask this question of people, do they think if it's a good thing for kids to play basketball with each other ... it's more likely to happen with these schools included in public education or outside the tent where they are today? I say it will happen if they are included as part of public education."
Annie Kidder, a spokeswoman for People for Education, said yesterday she was frustrated that the focus in this election campaign is on private schools entering the public system, and not on fixing public education.
"We're already now getting into the details about what will be taught in religious schools. We've put the cart very far ahead of the horse," she said.
"It's frustrating and it allows us to avoid much more important ... exploration that I really think we need right now in Ontario."

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