VANCOUVER (CP) – The B.C. Education Ministry has been bombarded with letters of complaint from people who find it galling that the government is paying to educate the children of Bountiful with polygamist ideology.
A legal expert says the government’s own regulations under the Independent School Act may be designed to deliberately ignore the issue.
“I’m sure that Bountiful is not the only religious school that, sadly, does things like teach girls that they are inferior or subservient,” said University of B.C. associate law professor Janine Benedet.
“It’s not a condition, for example, that you teach sex equality or you don’t teach sex discrimination or whatever, they (the ministry) haven’t identified that as a criteria that is relevant for funding.” The letters, obtained by the Canadian Press under the Freedom of Information Act, are from unnamed individuals, various advocacy groups, three B.C. Interior school boards, and even a branch of the B.C. Retired Employees Association.
The general theme in the dozens of letters allege few students from Bountiful complete Grade 12, as the boys are needed to work for the elders and the girls are required to become “celestial” wives and start producing children.
“Surely the B.C. curriculum does not provide for girls to become subservient and boys to believe there must have multiple “wives” or they will burn in hell!” asks one of the numerous letters sent to the ministry from the Canadian Federation of University Women, Sunshine Coast Unit.
“Meanwhile our education minister funds these polygamous communes while closing nearby public schools for lack of funds!” another letter writer fumes. “I consider that my tax dollars are being wasted on these types of decisions,” the complainant concludes.
Names and other personal information were deleted from the information package before it was released.
Brenda Jensen, a former Bountiful resident, said the children are taught not to question.
“Their minds aren’t bad, it’s getting past that barrier of worthlessness that they’re taught. They’re taught they’re nothing,” she said. “Because if you’re nothing, you don’t question.”
Jensen now works with girls and women who have left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) in both Bountiful and communities in the United States.
“It’s very evil,”she added, saying even decades later she’s still working on her self esteem.
“They’re still our responsibility as Canadian children and they have the rights of Canadian children even though they don’t know it,” said Audrey Vance, of the group Altering Destiny Through Education.
Her group has also been part of a campaign to have the Education Ministry keep a closer watch on the students of Bountiful.
The community, near Creston, B.C., was established in the mid-1940’s and is connected to the FLDS in the United States.
“They’re taught from the time they are little, little girls that they are to grow up to be sweet, and to submit to the men, and to be mothers,” said Nancy Mereska, of the group Stop Polygamy in Canada.
Mereska, 60, who now lives in Southern Alberta, was a Mormon for 20 years before she divorced her husband.
“The schooling itself is elementary. That’s all there is to it.
“The young girls are lucky if they have Grade 6, Grade 7 reading levels. There’s little encouragement for them to go out and become teachers, or nurses, or midwives.”
The B.C. government paid almost $1 million in 2006-07 in support of the two schools operating in the south-east community.
Despite repeated requests for an interview over several days, Education Minister Shirley Bond refused to comment.
However an e-mail provided by her staff said the schools are inspected by a team every year that looks for compliance within the Independent School Act.
A ministry spokesperson couldn’t say what the graduation rate is for Bountiful because the school only receives government funding up to Grade 10.
The school goes up to Grade 12, but the teacher for the last two grades is not certified by the College of Teachers. As a result, students must go to a different school to get their diploma.
“There was not a graduate out there for 10 years,” Vance said relaying what she had learned from a women who left the community.
She said recent public pressure on the community has forced officials to allow some children to graduate, but she cautioned that that information came from Bountiful elders.
The Mormon Hills school, which is kindergarten to Grade 7, is operated by Winston Blackmore a former leader of the community.
The Bountiful Elementary-Secondary school follows the teachings of Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS sect with thousands of members in Arizona and Utah.
Attorney General Wally Oppal said the government has looked into the social conditions in the community.
“They seem to be looking after their children well, other than the fact, from time to time, they excommunicate the boys,” he said.
“What I have been told all along is that their curriculum complies with the curriculum standards set by the Ministry of Education.”
Oppal called the accusations of sexual exploitation and assaults a top priority and said an RCMP report was completed last year and is being considered by provincial Crown prosecutors.
Jensen said decades after she escaped, the community is still teaching the same things to its children.
She used her sister, who was a teacher for the FLDS in Colorado City, as an example.
“All her career she told those students that man never went to the moon, that it was a government hoax because (the profit) said man would never land on the moon.”
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