TORONTO (JTA) — Quebec has ended a 24-year arrangement that allowed fervently Orthodox Jewish students to study at a Montreal junior college at public expense.
Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne announced recently that the province will cut funding to three Chasidic schools next year because of their religious focus.
Since 1985, the Jewish schools have been operating in tandem with Marie-Victorin CEGEP, a public, post-secondary college in Montreal. Students in Quebec generally attend CEGEP for two years before proceeding to a university.
Teachers at the Jewish colleges are hired and paid through CEGEP, and the Jewish students learn the same curriculum as their non-Jewish counterparts. Women and men are segregated in some classes.
Quebec "cannot accept" that schools with such religious restrictions are funded by tax dollars, Courchesne said.
The decision came as a surprise to Eli Meroz, academic coordinator at one of the Jewish schools, the Torah and Vocational Institute, who said the school focuses on job training, not religion.
"I’m a little bit surprised because we’ve not adapted any of the content in the courses," Meroz told CBC News. "There may be some small adaptations in terms of calendar — we don’t offer classes on Jewish holidays.
"The main objective here is to provide job training to these communities, so that students from these communities can access the job market. There are communities that in the past have not had access to CEGEP programs and this type of job training because they were not comfortable in the public CEGEP system."
Meroz added that not every class is segregated by gender.
About 800 Jewish students are affected by the funding elimination.