The Ministry of Education says it is satisfied with the way British Columbia’s curriculum is being taught at two schools in the controversial community of Bountiful, near Creston, and that children attending those schools “are not being subjected to polygamist teaching.”
The comment came after criticisms that the ministry had not responded to letters complaining that $1-million in taxpayer’s money was going to support the schools in the fundamentalist Mormon community that have about 340 students between them.
Critics allege that most students leave after Grade 10, with girls at both schools being taught to become subservient wives to men old enough to be their grandfathers, and boys being sent out to work to build profits for the sect’s leaders.
Education Minister Shirley Bond was unavailable for comment yesterday, but authorized her spokesperson to state that the ministry had received 211 complaints since 2000, including letters, faxes and e-mails.
One of the letter writers, Audrey Vance of the Creston-based Altering Destiny Through Education, a group that assists those wanting to leave Bountiful, raised concerns about dropout rates and allowing children “free and fair education.”
“The only thing that will make a difference is if the children are completely educated. What concerns us as taxpayers, and we don’t understand it, is that polygamy is against the laws of Canada. How can we be funding a school that teaches children to break the law?” she said in an interview.
Ms. Vance said she had been told by women who had left the community that no student has graduated there in 10 years.
The two schools represent political and religious divisions within the community. Bountiful Elementary/High School follows the teachings of Warren Jeffs, the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sect in Arizona and Utah. The FBI arrested Mr. Jeffs in Las Vegas last summer for allegedly arranging a marriage between an underage girl and an older man.
Mormon Hills school is operated by Winston Blackmore, who Mr. Jeffs excommunicated in 2002, and is seen as the more liberal of the two leaders.
A local politician in the Kootenays says that while the split in the community has hurt families, the students at both schools were “awesome.”
John Kettle of the Regional District of Central Kootenay, who is a Methodist, added that he thought the written complaints about the way children are taught at the two schools came from “special interests outside this valley.”
“I gave [the letter writers] the benefit of the doubt at first, but I’m at the point where I say they’re hypocrites and they’re more concerned about their political interests than they are about the students,” he said.
Mr. Kettle described as “lies” any suggestions that the girls were being taught to be subservient to the men in the community.
“That’s an absolute fabrication. That’s a lie. I’ve been to those schools and I tell you there’s no curriculum standard that teaches anybody that girls are less representative in today’s society than anyone else,” he said.
An Associated Press article in May, 2006, said some Bountiful parents, frustrated in the confines of their secretive community and too busy to home-school their children, had started to send them to the nearby public school, Yahk Elementary. Sixteen attended the first year, and a further 14 were expected to join last fall, said the article. Mr. Kettle said the school had 29 pupils this year, but would not confirm how many came from Bountiful.
He added that it was working out well for both the students from Bountiful and the school in Yahk, which had been threatened with closing because too few local children attended it.
“Everybody’s happy out there. It’s probably the only growing school in our entire area,” he said. “Yahk School is doing really well. There are a lot of kids who are probably for the first time coming into the public system, which we think is good.”
The Ministry of Education spokesperson said both schools in Bountiful had received yearly visits from inspectors in the past six years, including some that were unannounced. The “learning outcomes” were being met in the community after a “thorough review of the curriculum,” the spokesperson said.
But Ms. Vance was not satisfied and cited a 1993 comment that Mr. Blackstone made in Maclean’s magazine that “they taught polygamy.”
“The children in Bountiful are Canadian children and we have a duty to them, so they can get the same education as everyone else,” she said.
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