No cards, no candy: Ontario school bans Valentine’s Day, arguing it harms equity goals

‘While we acknowledge the celebration of Valentine’s Day, and are mindful of the popularity of that day, it is not celebrated by all students’

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An Ontario elementary school has cancelled Valentine’s Day on the grounds that the traditional celebration of love could “negatively impact our families and students.”

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“While we acknowledge the celebration of Valentine’s Day, and are mindful of the popularity of that day, it is not celebrated by all students/families in our community,” reads a notice sent to parents and subsequently forwarded to local media.

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The note adds, “it is essential that all students feel welcomed and reflected at school, and that our celebrations do not negatively impact our families and students.”

The school in question is Jean Steckle Public School. Named for a prominent local nutritionist, it’s an elementary school in Kitchener, Ont., comprising roughly 750 students. In previous years, Valentine’s Day has been prominently featured on the Jean Steckle school calendar, and was typically observed with crafts, decorations and the exchange of cards. In 2015, the school even organized a Valentine’s Day dance for students in grades seven and eight.

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In 2021, however, the school banned the bringing of paper valentines onto school property on the grounds that they were “non-essential materials” that could act as a vector for infectious disease. For this year, however, it was reasons of health and equity that inspired a similar order.

After several Kitchener parents approached local media to complain, a spokesperson with the Waterloo Region District School Board explained to CTV that Valentine’s Day imposes a “financial strain” on families who feel forced to “purchase cards or sweets.”

The spokesperson added that the holiday’s promotion of candy was “inconsistent with the Healthy Schools approach.”

Healthy Schools, as described on the Region of Waterloo’s official website, is a program to “decrease health inequities among the student population.”

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This is far from the first time that the Waterloo Region District School Board has found itself in the midst of a culture war that has earned national — and even international — attention.

Last January, teacher Carolyn Burjoski was forcibly silenced at a board meeting and handed a “stay-at-home” order after she raised concerns about illustrated storybooks in school libraries that dismissed the medical side-effects of gender transitioning — or inferred that a lack of sexual thoughts may be a sign of an asexual gender identity.

“Maybe Rick (the protagonist in one book) doesn’t have sexual feelings yet because he is a child,” said Burjoski shortly before her microphone was cut off.

The same week that Jean Steckle cancelled Valentine’s Day, the board published a lengthy open letter inferring that a delegation of concerned parents to one of their recent meetings had been motivated by hate and transphobic bigotry.

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Parents had objected to a student census that explicitly asked younger students about their ethnic background and sexual orientation, as well as a school policy of immediately accommodating a child’s wish for gender transition without informing guardians.

“Hate, racism and xenophobia are not ‘opinions’ that should be gathered through consultation,” read the letter. “The hallmark of a democratic public education system should be that we serve all students well, especially those with the least power.”

Last summer, the board censured one of its only Black trustees, Mike Ramsay, after he objected to lesson plans which encouraged Caucasian students to acknowledge their “white privilege.” “Most trustees see me as the wrong kind of Black man,” Ramsay wrote in an op-ed for the Waterloo Region Record.

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Valentine’s Day — just like St. Patrick’s Day and Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste — has its origins as a Catholic feast day, with Feb. 14 chosen to celebrate one of several Christian martyrs named Valentine.

Although there is no evidence that the Valentines had any strong feelings about love, the holiday is believed to have taken on that connotation in order to act as a toned-down substitute for the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, which featured rampant public nudity and even community orgies.

As Valentine’s Day has moved further and further away from its Christian origins, it has gained adoption in any number of non-Christian countries such as Bangladesh and Japan. Several notable exceptions can be found in the Islamic world, where observations of the holiday are banned for their alleged promotion of immorality and indecency.


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