The serious and tangible harms to children, their rights and their education must all be taken into consideration when deciding whether the Criminal Code prohibition against polygamy is constitutional, the BC Teachers’ Federation argued in BC Supreme Court Friday.
“Evidence in this case has shown that Bountiful is an example of institutionalized sexism that oppresses both girls and boys, and that education in this closed community serves the purposes of the men in control, not the women and children,” said BCTF President Susan Lambert. “It is outrageous that these schools, where generations of students have been indoctrinated to accept a life of virtual slavery, have passed independent school inspections and continue to receive public funding.”
The court heard disturbing evidence of the extent of religious indoctrination practiced in Bountiful schools. Former student Truman Oler testified: “I went to school in Bountiful from Kindergarten through Grade 9... When I was growing up, the boys were encouraged to leave school early to work. The girls were taught that their role was to have lots of children and to obey the men. I do remember that we were taught religion for 1–2 hours per day.”
Also of great concern to the BCTF is the fact that no one at the Bountiful schools ever raised any concerns about the sexual abuse of students, even though girls as young as Grade 9 were married and subsequently became pregnant. “Whereas schools should offer protection from these types of abuse, in Bountiful this has been specifically accepted at these schools,” the BCTF submitted in court.
Experts testified that worldwide, children in polygamous communities have lower educational attainment and girls are less likely to be educated. In Bountiful, specific harms to education include: inadequate school inspection and oversight processes; lack of certified teachers; failure to meet Prescribed Learning Outcomes of the provincial curriculum including critical thinking skills, awareness of rights and freedoms, health and sexuality education, life skills training, and post-secondary career choices; and an abysmal graduation rate.
In the 2009–10 school year, 423 children were enrolled in the two independent schools in the community: Bountiful Elementary Secondary School and Mormon Hills Elementary Secondary. Since 1991, only 31 students who attended those schools have graduated, the vast majority through online education programs. “When compared to the number of students ever enrolled in these schools, the BCTF submits that this is evidence of woeful educational attainment for these students,” the BCTF brief states.
Lambert noted that teachers’ advocacy on this case goes back decades, to early concerns raised by the BCTF Status of Women committee. In 2004, the Status of Women action group investigated the situation, and raised alarm bells about the limited educational opportunities for all children in Bountiful and the forced eviction of the “lost boys” into the larger community of Creston. In 2006, the Status of Women program held a conference in Creston on the rights of women and children in closed communities. Representatives from the FLDS community participated, along with several former residents of Bountiful. In 2009, BCTF members collected thousands of signatures on a petition asking for government action on Bountiful, which they presented to then-Attorney-General Wally Oppal and then-Education Minister Shirley Bond.