Humber student feels religion unaccommodated

Published On May 17, 2017 | By Francis Commey | News

This sign is seen at the entrance to Humber North Campus’ D Building.

By: Matt Hodder and Fareah Islam

A student of Humber College’s Baking and Pastry Arts program has been told that missing class for a religious holiday means a failing grade.

Esther Belne, 19, alerted her program coordinator, Chef Joe Kumar, that upcoming Jewish holidays in 2016 would require her to miss class. In Kumar’s emails to Belne he said, “We only recognize statutory holidays which are marked in the calendar year,” and that “absenteeism will be considered a zero.”

Belne shared her email request for only seven teaching days over the course of the month, but Kumar said that Belne “asked for the whole month off.”

When Kumar received the request for the month of October off, he did not make the refusal on his own but sought advice from his superiors.

Belne and her family practice Judaism, and October featured the Jewish high holidays of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Sukkoth.

“These holidays are the most important in my religion,” Belne said. “My parents are observant so I needed to be with them to show my support. I couldn’t go to school because you have to be at the synagogue to pray all day.”

Belne said she followed procedure in requesting time off.

“I told my teacher that I would be missing, and he sent me to the program coordinator,” Belne said.

Kumar said the request was unusual. “In the years I’ve been teaching here I have never received a religious request for a month off.”

In an email statement from Humber’s Director of Communications, Andrew Leopold, to CityNews it is said that “mechanisms are in place for students who request academic accommodations due to religious observances, and we support all students in making these requests.”

Humber’s October 2016 multifaith calendar includes all of the holidays that Belne said she asked to have off.

“I think Humber should have let me make up those classes and only have one policy for everyone, not each teacher have different policies for each course,” Belne said, “All I want is maybe if I can make up those classes and still go back to Humber to get that diploma because I’d love to continue on that career.”

Both Kumar and Sherry Fast of the Human Resources Department at Humber College were told to direct media to Leopold.

Leopold did not speak to Humber News by phone.

Instead Leopold provided an email statement saying, “While we are unable to speak in detail about this case due to the privacy obligations we have to our students, the college is aware of the situation and regret that the student felt that their needs were not met.”

The statement also said, “Accommodation requests for any reason under the Human Rights Code are addressed on a case by case basis and can be complex.”

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