Lecce orders school boards to honour Queen Elizabeth II after YRDSB memo advises principals to avoid the topic

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has ordered school boards across the province to commemorate the Queen’s death after the York Region District School Board issued guidance to schools to avoid the topic.

“The entire world is marking the profound loss of a graceful and dutiful Queen who dedicated her whole life to the service of our country and the Commonwealth, upon ascending to the Throne at 25 years old,” Lecce said in a statement Thursday.

“We have made clear our direction that all schools are to recognize the profound impact of Queen Elizabeth II’s lifelong and unwavering devotion to public service.”

His comments come after a “tip sheet” was distributed to school administrators in York Region which advised that discussions about the Queen might be “triggering” and that the topic should be avoided.

“If students are not initiating discussions about this subject, please maintain the focus of their interests and learning in the classroom,” advises the memo, a copy of which was obtained by CTV News Toronto.  “It is important that schools remain neutral environments. Staff raising the topic of the death of a prominent societal figure in a classroom can be triggering for some students and remind them of previous losses they have experienced, it is therefore not encouraged.”

The memo further requested that school staff “refrain from developing tributes or activities to memorialize the death of the Queen, as well as displaying objects associated with the Queen for the purposes of memorializing.”

It advised to refrain from playing ‘God save the Queen’ or live streaming any events around the Queen’s death as “this may be received differently by varying members of your school community” and noted that “monarchies are steeped in problematic histories of colonialism which connect to ongoing present day oppression of individuals and groups.”

A spokesperson for Lecce said Thursday that he has spoken with all school board chairs, directors and board leaders and has stated the expectation that all schools participate in a moment of silence at 1 p.m. on Sept. 19, the day the Queen’s state funeral will be held. However students who do not wish to participate do not have to.

“I have directed this board to implement the province’s expectation, honour the Queen on the date of her funeral, and enrich students with a strong understanding of the values and enduring legacy of Canada’s constitutional democracy,” Lecce said in his statement.

In a statement to CP24, the YRDSB said its focus “is always to ensure children are supported while in our classrooms.”

The board noted that “in a region as richly diverse as ours, there will be different reactions to news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II,” but said it will comply with the new provincial directive to commemorate her death. 

While millions have been mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, her death has also triggered renewed conversation about the ongoing relevance of the monarchy in many countries and has renewed conversation in some places which have a complicated and troubled history with Great Britain.

An Angus Reid survey conducted earlier this year found that most Canadians (63 per cent) had a favourable view of the Queen herself, though opinions of other members of the royal family were less favourable.

While polls have registered mixed feelings about Canada’s ongoing ties to the monarchy, the British sovereign remains Canada’s head of state and no serious proposals for severing ties  have been put forward by federal politicians in recent memory.

Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week that while Ontario will not have a holiday to mark the Queen’s funeral, the province will observe a day of mourning, with a moment of silence at 1 p.m. for those who wish to observe it.

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