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Accommodation: Religious Observances

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Religious Accommodation Overview

The University’s expectations on this matter are articulated in the Policy on Scheduling of Classes and Examinations and Other Accommodations for Religious Observances.

As noted in the Policy, the University welcomes and includes students, staff, and faculty from a wide range of backgrounds, cultural traditions, and spiritual beliefs. The Policy includes the following provisions:

  • It is the policy of the University of Toronto to arrange reasonable accommodation of the needs of students who observe religious holy days other than those already accommodated by ordinary scheduling and statutory holidays.
  • Students have a responsibility to alert members of the teaching staff in a timely fashion to upcoming religious observances and anticipated absences. Instructors will make every reasonable effort to avoid scheduling tests, examinations, or other compulsory activities at these times. If compulsory activities are unavoidable, every reasonable opportunity should be given to these students to make up work that they miss, particularly in courses involving laboratory work. When the scheduling of tests or examinations cannot be avoided, students should be informed of the procedure to be followed to arrange to write at an alternate time.
  • It is most important that no student be seriously disadvantaged because of their religious observances. However, in the scheduling of academic and other activities, it is also important to ensure that the accommodation of one group does not seriously disadvantage other groups within the University community.

Please note that the obligation not to discriminate on the basis of religion (“creed”) is a statutory duty arising from the Ontario Human Rights Code. It carries with it the obligation to accommodate religious requirements where doing so does not cause undue hardship to the University. For example, accommodation normally requires that scheduled graded term work or tests conflicting with religious requirements be adjusted by providing similar evaluation on alternate dates.

Students who will miss an examination due to a religious observance should not normally be charged an examination deferral fee. However, all other normal examination deferral procedures should apply. With respect to minimum advance notice, the Policy provides that “Students have a responsibility to alert members of the teaching staff in a timely fashion to upcoming religious observances and anticipated absences.” Since students would normally be aware of upcoming religious observances as well as examination schedules in advance, a minimum of three weeks advance notice should be considered sufficient.

Letters/documentation from faith leaders to support requests for accommodation should not be requested. The University does not request this documentation because doing so would imply a potential assessment of the sincerity of the religious practice, and not all faith traditions necessitate involvement in an organized faith community.

The following are examples of requests that students may make to be excused from classes or examinations: Holy Days; on Fridays at 1:00 p.m. for Muslim community prayers; or on the Jewish Sabbath (one-and a-half hours before sunset Friday to one-and-a-half hours after sunset Saturday).

Contacts for Assistance

For assistance in interpreting the Policy and for support in the development of divisional or departmental procedures which are consistent with the Policy, please contact Meredith Strong, Director, Office of the Vice-Provost, Students & Student Policy Advisor at 416.978.4027 or meredith.strong@utoronto.ca.

For assistance in devising reasonable accommodations for religious observances and Holy Days, please contact Richard Chambers, Director, Multifaith Centre at 416.946.3119 or richard.chambers@utoronto.ca or the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Officer at 416.978.1259 or antiracism@utoronto.ca.

Relevant Dates 2018-19
Relevant Dates 2019-20
Accommodation for the Haj Pilgrimage

The Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime Pilgrimage to Mecca for some Muslims. As the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, the dates for the month of Dhu al-Hijjah change each year. Because the month must begin and end on sighting of the moon, the estimated dates for the Hajj over the next two years are as follows:

  • 2018-19: First day: on or around August 19. Last day: on or around August 24, 2018
  • 2019-20: First day: on or around August 9. Last day: on or around August 14, 2019

While the pilgrimage itself last only a limited number of days, pilgrims travel as a group and most groups leave a minimum of two weeks in advance in order to complete related obligations. The early departure means that students would likely have to leave at a time that may affect a number of academic activities. Furthermore, because of the dates being fixed for the entire group, there is often very little flexibility.

The Policy provides that “It is the policy of the University of Toronto to arrange reasonable accommodation of the needs of students who observe religious holy days other than those already accommodated by ordinary scheduling and statutory holidays.” While the Hajj is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation, there are several related factors that may compel our students to make the decision to attend to that rite of passage in any particular year and/or at a time that conflicts with a scheduled academic events or activities. These issues pertain to their potential need to accompany family members on this journey, as well as issues of financial ability.

It is not the University’s role to pass judgment of the necessity of students to partake in an activity that may be central to their faith, but rather to help determine what would comprise reasonable accommodation without causing undue hardship to the activities of the institution. With respect to final exams, the customary practice is to allow for exams to be deferred until the next exam period. Students should be encouraged to make the request through their college or divisional offices.