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This article was published 4/2/2011 (3679 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A dozen Muslim families, who recently arrived in Canada, have told the Louis Riel School Division they want their children excused from compulsory elementary school music and co-ed physical education programs for religious and cultural reasons.

"This is one of our realities in Manitoba now, as a result of immigration," said superintendent Terry Borys.

"We were faced with some families who were really adamant about this. Music was not part of the cultural reality," he said.

Borys said the division has alerted Education Minister Nancy Allan about the situation, because music and phys-ed are compulsory in elementary schools. There have been no issues, so far, with children of middle school or high school age, he said.

The families accept physical education, as long as the boys and girls have separate classes, but do not want their kids exposed to singing or playing musical instruments, Borys said.

The division has suggested kids could do a writing project to satisfy the music requirements of the arts curriculum, he said.

However, a local Muslim leader says there is no reason for little kids to be held out of music or phys-ed classes on religious and cultural grounds.

That shouldn't be happening, said Shahina Siddiqui, executive director of the Islamic Social Services.

"Who is advising them? My first concern would be, who are these new immigrants talking to?" said Siddiqui. "This is the first time I am hearing this -- I'm not very happy about it."

Siddiqui said there is no problem with elementary school children taking phys-ed together: "No, not with little kids under the age of puberty."

Some middle school and senior high students have asked not to mix genders in phys-ed, and they have been accommodated by schools, she said.

Siddiqui acknowledged music can be an issue, but only for a few people.

"Music is controversial in our community -- this is a North American phenomenon," she said.

"There is a minority view that music is forbidden. (That view) is not accepted by the majority."

Borys said there had been one or two requests for kids to be excused previously, but this year a dozen families came forward at six schools.

Borys said LRSD contacted a member of the Islamic community whom the parents suggested, consulted the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and looked at what other jurisdictions are doing about accommodation, particularly Ontario.

The division is trying to figure out what issues might arise when the children enter junior high or high school, he said. Music is optional beyond Grade 6, but phys-ed is co-ed right through Grade 12.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca