Families complain to Human Rights Commission after rejection by Calgary Islamic School

Two families say they feel they’re being unfairly targeted by administration at the Calgary Islamic School, Palliser School Division and the Muslim Community Foundation of Calgary because they went public about a fee dispute last year.

Now they’re pursuing complaints through the Alberta Human Rights Commission. 

Back in March, Ahmed Elsaid and Yasir Mohammad spoke to reporters when changes were made to how fees were collected by the school after the Palliser School Division took over operating the program. 

Prior to the Calgary Islamic School switching to the Palliser School district, the $1,400 fee (and $1,200 for subsequent students) was paid to the Muslim Community Foundation of Calgary. But because it is a society, and not a school board, many parents chose not to pay it. That included Elsaid and Mohammad — who also taught at the school for 15 years. 

When Palliser took over collection of those fees to cover the cost of delivering an alternative program, families that had previously not paid the fees were now required to in order to register their students for the following school year. Many took issue with that.

Ultimately, it was determined that in order to register students for the 2022-23 school year, families would be required to pay the fees for last year first, and continue to pay fees for subsequent years attending the school. 

Rejection letters

Elsaid and Mohammad paid the fees.

Then came the rejection letters for all three of Elsaid’s children and one of Mohammad’s. 

“After much consideration, we regret to inform you that we are unable to offer your child admissions for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year,” read the letters. 

“We recognize that this decision may come as a disappointment to you and your family. All of our admissions decisions are made through a thorough committee review process. As a result, all decisions are final.”

The fathers say they are the only two families they know of who have been impacted this way. They’ve spent their summer fighting to have their children reinstated. 

The Calgary Islamic School’s Akram-Jomaa Campus is located near the airport in the northeast. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

“Imagine the first thing in the morning your child would ask you, ‘Am I going to school again? Will I see my friends again?'” said Mohammad.

Elsaid the real issue is that they went public.

“The only problem from their perspective is that we spoke up,” he said.

“Now they are targeting us for this.”

‘It was like my second home’

For his 16-year-old daughter, Nour, who is heading in to Grade 12, it was another devastating blow after the drama of the fee dispute the year prior (in addition to pressures of the pandemic). 

“I’ve been attending the school for six years. It was like my second home,” she said. 

“I knew that my dad had paid the fees for next year and last year, so I felt discriminated against. I’ve been emotional my entire summer break. I cried numerous times and felt overwhelmed because this situation is out of my hands.”

The families say they attempted to contact the school board, the ministry of education and Muslim Community Foundation for answers but that didn’t go anywhere. 

Decision reversed

Palliser said it was unable to do an interview, but in an emailed statement sent July 18, it said the foundation has a master agreement with the school division.

It gives the foundation the responsibility to review applications and make decisions around acceptance. Palliser then directed CBC News to contact the Muslim Council of Calgary (MCC), which is the governing body of the foundation.

MCC did not respond to multiple requests by CBC News for information or interviews over the past month. 

Then last week, things suddenly changed, said Elsaid and Mohammed. 

The parents received letters from Palliser on Aug. 5 indicating that after discussions with MCC, the students would be allowed back to the school. 

Parents, left to right, Mahar Hassan, Aziz Wadya, Ahmed Gouda, Mozammel Hoque, Yasir Mohammad, and Ahmed Elsaid pose for a photo outside the Calgary Islamic School’s Akram-Jomaa Campus in March. They opposed the Palliser School Division’s introduction of what they described as ‘illegal’ fees. (Oseremen Irete/CBC)

“The administration of the Palliser School Division has decided on a without prejudice, non-precedent setting, and on an exceptional basis to allow for the registration of your children into the school for this year only,” it reads. 

“This decision does not negate your responsibility to ensure that you and your children adhere to the codes of conduct that have been developed by the society in the advancement of the alternative program at the Calgary Islamic School.”

Society code of conduct

The parents say they are happy their kids will be back at the school but are concerned the letters indicate it’s “for this year only.”

“That means they have a predetermined decision already that they’re not going to allow me for the years after, no matter what we do,” said Mohammad.

And by demanding they follow the MCC code of conduct, they say the school district is pushing the blame back on the families. 

“We are not bound by the society code of conduct because the School Act says that we are only bound by the code of conduct of the school board. We have no relation with the society. I’m not even a member,” said Elsaid. 

In a followup response to CBC News last week, Palliser said many of the issues that were brought to the board’s attention have been resolved, but there are still some issues that are being addressed.

“We continue to work with both the Calgary Islamic School and parents within the parameters set by the Alberta Education Act to address concerns as they arise,” it said.

Human rights complaints

Elsaid and Mohammad say they will not allow this situation to go away unaddressed. Both have now filed complaints with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. 

CBC News has viewed correspondence between the commission and the families. It indicates the agency has accepted their complaints and has launched an investigation.

“We have sent accepted complaint to the respondents and we have requested a response from them. The complaint will now wait until we receive a response,” it reads.

In an email, the commission says it does not comment on the nature or status of a complaint as all complaints remain confidential until, and only if, they reach the tribunal stage.

It says that when a complaint is accepted, the commission contacts the other party (the respondent) to notify it of the details of the complaint. The respondent then has 30 days to respond with a written statement.

The Calgary Islamic School was founded in 1992 to serve the Muslim community in the city. It is now a K-12 school with two campuses.

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