Catholic public school motion defeated by council

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – The Catholic public school debate came before Morinville Town Council again Tuesday night, this time in the form of a motion from Councillor Lisa Holmes. Although a topic of discussion in the streets of Morinville for several months, the matter first came before council two weeks ago when Donna Hunter, spokesperson for the group of local parents seeking a secular education for their children in Morinville’s public schools, made her case to council. Council’s reaction at that time was one of silence. Neither comment nor question was made to the delegation.

But recent headlines outside of Morinville, including an article in last Saturday’s Globe and Mail, prompted Holmes to speak up where none on council had before. Holmes motion, delivered at the end of Tuesday night’s meeting, called on council to send an invitation to Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Ken Kowalski, Alberta’s Minister of Education Dave Hancock and the trustees of the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board. That invitation would request the parties to attend a stakeholder meeting in Morinville within the next 30 days to discuss the future of Morinville’s education system.

Holmes’ motion was defeated by a 4-3 vote, Councillors Holmes, Boutestein and Van De Walle being the only supporters of the idea.

Speaking against the motion, Councillor Gordon Boddez said the school issue is not a municipal matter. “We are a creature of the provincial government,” Boddez said. “We are created by provincial government. School boards in this province are creatures of provincial and federal governments.”

The veteran councillor went on to compare the idea of mediating in the dispute to an independent committee stepping in to resolve Morinville’s long-standing feuds with Sturgeon County.

Boddez was not the only veteran councillor to oppose Holmes’ motion. Deputy Mayor Paul Krauskopf also made his objections known. “It’s too broad of an event,” Krauskopf said of the proposal, adding he would not object to the mayor making a call or speaking to some people on the matter, but that it was out of place for all of council to be addressing the issue. “This is a provincial matter, not a town matter.”

It was a sentiment Councillor David Pattison agreed with although he – like Holmes – is troubled by the recent regional and national attention the issue has attracted.

“Personally, this is an issue that I have seen since I moved here, but I’ve always seen it as a provincial matter,” the councillor said. “I just do not see what we as a town could do to mediate to bring parties together to resolve an issue. I hate the headlines, but with respect to Councillor Holmes, I do not see it as an appropriate role of the town to be on the mediation side.”

But Mayor Bertschi is not as troubled by the headlines as some on council, nor is he as concerned with the negative image those headlines may send Morinville’s way. “It is purely and simply an issue between the province and the schools,” the mayor said. “It’s going to continue to be an issue as long as we continue to keep growing. The divide’s going to get wider.”

The mayor said ultimately it will be the minister of education and the province that will have to make the decision. “We’re an anomaly in this province,” Bertschi said of Morinville’s unique Catholic public school system. “We’re the only one like this. In fact, I think we’re the only one like this in the country. It just needs to be dealt with at that level. That’s who needs to deal with it.”

The mayor said he could not envision a point where the issue would become a municipal issue. “The sky is not falling,” Bertschi said. “Does it need to be addressed? It would be nice if the minister would address it, but if they choose not to. I read an article in one of the dailies in the city that this will have to go to the courts. Well, how does it get to court? Does this group have to sue the province? Do they have to sue the school board?”

Bertschi said he felt for the Morinville parents and their plight, but maintained it was a matter between the province and the school board. “We’ve got enough issues at the municipal level without taking on fights that aren’t ours.”

But Councillor Holmes feels the schools issue is one council should be willing to have a dialogue on, although she agrees with others on council that it is not council’s fight.

“This is not a municipal issue, but as a resident of Morinville I’ve always believed that we have to do what’s in the best interest of the town,” she said. “When the town is the one out there in articles, then we have to be involved. It starts to impact on economic development. We have plans we want to make on attracting residents and new businesses to our community.”

Holmes said she felt the roundtable discussion she proposed in her motion would have given Morinville an opportunity to move the issue forward in discussions on a topic she hears about frequently as a parent of children in Morinville schools.
“I hear this issue every day,” Holmes said. “I live this issue every day.”

Although raised in a Catholic family, Holmes said she is not a practicing Catholic. Like other Morinville parents she has encountered religion coming home with her child.

“My seven-year-old son came home from Grade 1 and told me he is giving up chocolate for Lent,” Holmes said. “How did he know that? How did he learn that? He’s not in religious studies. He’s in the options course. But he had pancakes for breakfast and learned about Lent.”

Holmes said she was not bothered by her son’s Lenten sacrifice of chocolate and feels her child is getting an excellent education in his Morinville school; however, she understands how other parents might see things differently.
“If I was Muslim; if I was Jehovah’s Witness, it would bother me,” she said. “This is a public school. I do feel that there is a huge issue here for young families in our community, and that they have elected me as a mother of a young family to be their voice. Today I hope I gave them that.”

Donna Hunter, a regular attendee at Town Council meetings, said she was blindsided by Holmes’ motion Tuesday night. “That was phenomenal that she would even make a motion like that,” Hunter said after Tuesday night’s meeting. “That took a lot of guts, and she’s right. It’s like the elephant in the room that everybody is ignoring. It’s got national exposure. How can they still say this is not a town issue? Everybody is talking about Morinville.”
Although disappointed the motion did not pass, Hunter said she was pleased it was made and felt it would have been a good step towards opening discussions. “Any time people are given a place to feel safe and to have an open conversation, that’s a positive thing,” she said.

Hunter said she received an e-mail from Minister Hancock’s executive assistant Tuesday indicating the minister would be meeting directly with GSACRD, something she and her group had been awaiting word on for some time. “I think the media attention is having an effect on this issue,” Hunter said, adding she has seen a disconnect between what the minister is saying in the legislature and what his spokespeople are saying to the media.

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14 Comments

  1. Jamesie,

    I agree that people should have a choice. I just think that some of the specifics should be out there for people to think about. I know that things would have to be negotiated but there are some obvious challenges as I see them. There just aren’t enough students overall to have elementary, junior and senior high schools in both a Catholic and a secular system in Morinville and Legal to make any of them operationally viable on their own.

    I do think that if there was an exodus from GSACRD to the secular side, teaching and support jobs would be lost on the GSACRD side. You would still have to run the Catholic schools for those families who want to continue with Catholic education, but with fewer students which means less funding, which means consolidation, which means loss of jobs.

    So to me the answer is for GSACRD to operate two “streams” in Morinville until a new school is built. Designate one of the elementary schools as non-Catholic, then add portables to Primeau and MCHS to create space for two streams. Once a new school is built, there will be capacity for two systems to operate independently in Morinville.

    I am a Catholic who supports Catholic education but I am also a firm believer in the “will of the people” and trying to make it work. What will be, will be.

  2. Thomas will be out fom 8am-5pm today, in front of the Town Office.

    By having a public non faith based school in Morinville, teachers of all faiths have the equal opportunity to apply for local teaching positions. Wouldn’t that be something…

  3. Kim, you say:

    “I do think that if there was an exodus from GSACRD to the secular side, teaching and support jobs would be lost on the GSACRD side. You would still have to run the Catholic schools for those families who want to continue with Catholic education, but with fewer students which means less funding, which means consolidation, which means loss of jobs.”

    Can you tell me who would be teaching the students who move to the secular system? If there is an overall loss of teachers in the town, then it can only mean that class sizes go up – unless you thought distance education or correspondence school would be used for those going to the secular classes. But come to think of it, if you wanted the secular classes to be conducted via a correspondence system, the kids would still need to be supervised and the correspondence school would still need to have people managing the growth at Morinville.

    I still see your overall thrust as being from a parochial Roman Catholic perspective. You have not answered my contention that there need be no nett loss of jobs. IF you have teachers there that will teach in the Catholic system and no other, then that is there business. Additional teachers would need to be recruited from outside Morinville and teachers you have now may need to consider moving away or moving from classroom teacher. But tell me again, where is the nett loss of jobs in moving toward a public education system with proper choice and religious freedom?

  4. @Majorie

    I agree 100% with your statement. Equality for teachers, students and parents is really all that is being asked here.

    I detest the bullying and pushy nature the Catholic school system is having on our impressionable children. I hope that all of town council and the mayor can find a spine to deal with this situation (and other pressing issues). There is a quote which states, ‘It takes a community to raise a child’. Perhaps the adults can find it within themselves to do the right thing and put the religious strife/dedication aside and put the best interests of the young population first. Lets face it, they deserve what we didn’t get….the freedom to choose.

  5. Sorry I didn’t get back to you Lisa, I’m iPhone limited out here.

    It was a much nicer day today, a little cool in the shade but tolerable. Thanks to the gentleman who brought coffee in the morning and the young lady who brought hot chocolate. It was appreciated. Thanks also to those who stopped, honked, waved etc, and to the two ladies who while of differing opinion, were willing to give up their time in pursuit of civil discussion on the matter.

    I have to go back to work tomorrow so the sidewalk should be rabble-rouser free for a while unless someone else has a statement to make, and we will see where things sit when I get back.

    Mr Mayor, councilors; I’m still waiting for the answers to my 5 questions.

    Regards;

    Thomas Kirsop

  6. I am very disappointed with what is happening in Morinville, all of this negative publicity just makes me sick. I feel that Morinville is advertising that if you are not Catholic, goes elsewhere. I want my child to be exposed to the fact that there are many different religions and beliefs in this world. I want him to understand that not everyone in this world holds the same beliefs. I want my child to learn the tennants of others faiths’. However, I want to be the one to guide him in that discovery. I do not want to have someone else play that roll. A public school should not act like a church. If your going to teach 1 religion, then teach them all!!!!!

  7. @Jamesie

    I think it all depends on the numbers of students that move into the secular program, whether GSACRD would be the board to offer it, and whether the government would come through with additional funding to accommodate the extra space (and teachers)that would be needed to see a true separation of “streams”.

    There are many scenarios but this is just one.

    Lets say 70% of Notre Dame kids and 70% of Vanier kids move into a secular education. That would probably mean them all attending either Vanier or Notre Dame as the newly designated secular school, which may or may not currently have space. You would still need a place for the Catholic kids, which would be consolidated at the other school but with fewer classrooms and teachers needed, which means you still have to pay full operational costs to keep a half-full school open. The “surplus” teachers at the Catholic school could teach at the secular school, as long as there were enough classrooms with enough kids in each grade to warrant more full-time teachers than are already teaching at the secular school.

    @Lisa

    “I detest the bullying and pushy nature the Catholic school system is having on our impressionable children”.

    Wow, pretty loaded statement. Perhaps it’s time for us all to cool our jets a little and allow solutions to take root.

  8. Kim

    The odds of a slight increase or decrease in total teachers would be 50% either way. But if the desired outcome is similar class sizes to the present, then kids, teachers and classrooms would need to be aligned.

    What is needed first is a decision to proceed. Only then will we know for sure which way families choose to jump.

    If there is a slight surplus of teachers overall, then I have no problem with encouraging a few early retirements.

    There are important issues of religious freedom, state education responsibility and in fact human rights at stake here.

  9. I have been a resident of Morinville since 1997, however work abroad. I have recently returned home to witness the tv interviews and the individual walking in front of town hall. I am disgusted that several individuals have raised the profile of Morinville to the level of global laughing stock. I have had two children complete school here and two more within the school system. None are Catholic, all elected out of religious based courses of their own volition. The amount of attention given to this small group of individuals is disappointing, where are the long term and new families speaking out, individuals, etc. Well if the attendance of the past two municipal elections is any indication, NIMBY. Morinville residents, it is time as a community we either tell this squeaky minority to stop and adapt, or a majority rises up and supports them and advocates real change.

    As a Western society, we have spent a lot of energy to get God out of our schools, our government and in most cases our families and communities. The Turkish had a great secular system that is now being manipulated due to the very fact it was secular. I am not Catholic, nor French however, the works of these two groups in the support of cultural heritage to our community and region have been great and the professionalism of the schools to separate faith from the curriculum of those who opt out is commendable.

    Stand up and get counted Morinville, or toil as Sheeple on the public stage behind the bleating few. Who is advising these people Ignatieff?

  10. @ 2Charlie

    Hi there, I’m the guy you saw infront of the town office.

    Glad your kids were not subject to what mine were.

    If it was those who raised the issue that were the problem we would see headlines like “Crazy secularists go to far” and “Unreasonable Mom wastes everybodies time”.

    This town is a laughing stock due to the issues within it’s public schools, not because of those who questioned the status quo.

    Frankly, some things are best left in the dark and do not survive well in the light. Like violation of human rights, violation of legislation, and bigotry.

    I do agree with you however that the time has come to stand and be counted. There should be a referendum in the community to officially sort out who want’s what. Then one way or the other the issue gets settled.

    Good luck getting any movement at all on that however no official body has shown the slightest desire to get involved in gathering actual data.

    I wonder why they would be so reluctant?

    As for who guides me? My conscience sir guides me. There was an awesome article on ethical and moral, political decision making recently posted in the Calgary Beacon.

    I would however suggest that if you would like your voice heard you move to a more recent article. They do tend to grow in number quickly.

    Appearently the issue is newsworthy.

    Regards;

    Thomas Kirsop

  11. Same old, same old. Same few anti-Catholic people squawking ALL the time!!!!

    @ Lisa – by the way…how many of your supporters joined the one man protest in front of Town Hall?

    @ Kim – many wish they would speak with their feet…in the way that you are referring to!

    Kim, Anon-Amos, Conrad, 2Charlie – make sure you check out the petition @ http://www.gopetition.com/petition/43101.html

  12. I would just like to say I am not catholic nor is my husband and obviosly my children aren’t either. That being said both my husband and I were raised in the catholic school system and it didn’t hurt us we came out of it just fine. My children all go to Notre Dame who kindly enough offers option classes in place of religeon for those families who feel that it is not for them. So yes your children will say the our father in the morning and celebrations are catholic based but they are not trying to force it on everyone they are making an effort that they don’t need to make to accomodate all families! I don’t think it will harm anyone to have their child sing catholic songs at christmas or say a prayer each morning they have done what they can to accomodate up while retaining their religeon.

  13. I am Catholic and I support the choice to have a public school in town but I am really getting tired of people putting down the catholic religion. I have 3 children in school in Morinville, Religion class is an option class, you do not have to attend the celebrations in the schools these two things are FACTS so stop saying otherwise. We have a wonderful school system with outstanding teachers have people forgotten about that? The majority of students in this town are still attending the catholic schools regardless of their faith that’s a fact to. I agree that there should be a public choice in town but would appreciate it if you’d stop blaming the Catholics for lack of one this far. I am concerned for those amazing teachers who will possilby lose their jobs now, I am concerned that the quality of education my children have been receiving will not be the same and that is the issue.

  14. I think I have a very informed opinion. I have lived in Morinville and went to school there for all my 12 years. My children went there for a couple years and my childrent now to to Sturgeon County. I am not Catholic. I did not have to take religion in school. However, it is very clear that it was a Catholic school. To say that kids don’t have to take part in celebrations is ridiculous. They practice for these things during class time (if your class is doing something), the whole school goes and you would feel like an outcast. My kids are now in Sturgeon and religion is still an option there. My opinion though is simple. You are entitled to an education, not a catholic education. Morinville needs to do what is right by law and is not big enough to have both, so that only leaves one option, public, not catholic school. For all who want their children to grow up in a catholic based school, by all means, pay for a private school and take your children there. Don’t deny my kids the right because you don’t want to take that option. My other opinion is that now that they may give a school in Morinville to Sturgeon to solve this problem, my kids may get moved to this school as they will need to fill it and we are very close to Morinville. So my kids may have to get displaced because Sturgeon had to step in to do for Morinvlle students what Morinville, the gov’t, the minister or GSACRD (whoever you may think is at fault) would not do. How is that fair?

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