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Tuesday November 11th, 2014

Posted at 3:52pm

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Confusion over an editorial column in a Toronto newspaper talking about Muslim children being allowed to skip out Remembrance Day has led to an official statement of clarification by the Greater Essex County District School Board saying that security and safety concerns were the real reason it was sent.

Director of Education Erin Kelly responded to comments made by Sun News commentator Ezra Levant who expressed outrage over a memo the board sent to principals that was interpreted as allowing Muslim children to sit out Remembrance Day.

“It is incredibly disappointing that an unfortunate misunderstanding has detracted from the solemn observance of Remembrance Day throughout the Greater Essex County District School Board,” said Kelly.

The Sun column stated “the memo says teachers should be prepared to exempt Muslim students from Remembrance Day.”

But the memo did not include the word ‘Muslim’, did not mention religion and only included links to web pages on diversity in the Canadian armed forces including Muslim soldiers, Aboriginal Canadian soldiers and African Canadian soldiers.

“Remembrance Day is a wonderful ‘teachable moment’ – and the Canadian War Museum has lots to offer with resources that are reflective of our Canadian nation – and our equally diverse local population,” read the memo, right above the links.

Kelly said the intent of the memo was actually to address the issue of worried families keeping their children from attending public Remembrance Day ceremonies after recent events in Ottawa and Quebec.

“The aforementioned memo was circulated to all Principals in the Board to highlight the history of Remembrance Day and to inform them that, in light of the tragic events in Ottawa and Quebec, we had received some expressions of concern regarding safety for students scheduled to attend public Remembrance Day activities at municipal memorials,” she said.

“Principals were reminded to be considerate of any requests for students to be exempted on that basis and that they were to provide meaningful activities at the school in lieu of the outing,” said Kelly.

Public board spokesman Scott Scantlebury reaffirmed Kelly’s clarification that the memo was intended only to tell principals to give students something else do if students were sitting out city and town Remembrance Day ceremonies due to safety concerns.

At least three local Remembrance Day ceremonies had dramatically increased police presences this year. Sunday’s ceremony at the Windsor cenotaph was marked by armed officers at road blocks and armed tactical officers were visibly stationed on several downtown buildings.

That same police presence was repeated for the November 11th ceremony. Officers also inspected the bags and backpacks of ceremony attendees.

And at the University of Windsor’s ceremony an armed officer was stationed on top of the Leddy Library, several armed officers patrolled, and an ambulance was stationed nearby.

Kelly said Remembrance Day is important for the board.

“It is enthusiastically supported in each school community and the evidence is in the powerful and poignant events staged by students and staff at each location,” she said. “We shall continue to remember the valiant Canadians who have served and continue to protect the freedoms we enjoy and we will maintain the dialogue in our classrooms to underline its importance.”

The original memo can be read here.

A police officer shields his eyes from the sun atop the Leddy Library at the University of Windsor’s Remembrance Day ceremony

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