By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Parents seeking a secular education for their children met with Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) board members Monday night for two-and-a-half hours to discuss and debate how the division will proceed with short-term plans to provide a non-religious education for their children. What is certain is that those seeking a secular education will get it, but GSACRD will not be providing it.
“It wouldn’t be us who would be providing the program, said Board Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull. “It will certainly be us who will be working hard to find partners who will provide that in our community.”
Also up in the air is whether the secular program will take place in Morinville or if bussing will remain an option. Either situation could prohibit Morinville parents from running for school board trustee. Turnbull said GSACRD’s short-term goal is to have a secular option in place for Sept. 1. “All these other things that we need to address as we move through this process would be more into the medium- and long-term solutions,” she said. “To run for trustee – that wouldn’t be an option until 2013.”
Turnbull said she felt Monday night’s meeting went well and that both sides had an opportunity to discuss where the division is at in terms of providing a secular option for students by the fall.
“I think we’re both on the same page there that that is the short-term goal,” Turnbull said, adding her board will be meeting with Sturgeon School Division next week to discuss the possibility of providing such a program and that they are also open to the possibility of other educational partners taking on that role. But just who those partners are, Turnbull was not prepared to say. “We are in the process of having some conversations” she said. “ We are not at this time really able to discuss who those people might be as they’re still trying to decide whether or not they’d be willing partners.”
What Turnbull was able to disclose is the fact GSACRD would be employing the services of Pivotal Research to conduct a survey of the parents of Morinville’s 1,700 students. Results from that survey are expected to be received by the end of May at which time Turnbull said the results would be shared with the community.
Turnbull explained every Morinville parent will receive a survey by mail that could be completed online or by mail. Additionally, Pivotal will follow the 1,700 parental surveys with a random phone survey of residents with a survey sample of not less than 400 people.
Just what questions will appear on the survey will be left up to Pivotal based on conversations had between the delegation and the board and what the two groups would like to see in terms of information. “Pivotal will be forming those questions,” Turnbull said. “That’s absolutely not for us to be part of.”
Parent delegation still concerned
Donna Hunter, spokesperson for the Morinville parent delegation, said her group was not pleased that Monday night’s meeting was their sole opportunity to provide input into the survey. “There’s no steering committee,” Hunter said, adding she is concerned that GSACRD will be the filter through which her group’s survey requests and ideas are presented to the survey contractor. Hunter said she felt since GSACRD will not be providing the secular education program, that it was important that the educational partner who would be providing the program be involved in the survey process. “Their input and full partnership on the survey is critical,” she said.
The delegation’s spokesperson said despite Minister of Education Dave Hancock meeting with GSACRD and making it clear to them what their responsibilities as a public board were, there is still disagreement between what the minister sees as GSACRD’s responsibility and what the division sees as its responsibility.
Additionally, the parent group are disappointed that it is still not clear whether or not the secular program they are seeking will be provided in Morinville. “They’re still talking about accessibility. They’re still talking about bussing.” Hunter said. “That is not acceptable.”
Hunter’s experience with the process of trying to get a secular education for her children has prompted Hunter and her family to sell their home in Morinville and make plans to move outside of Morinville where she can be assured her children will get the education she wants for them.
“We had to make a backup plan,” Hunter said, adding her home is sold and the family will be moving. “Here we are. It is April 12th and even though we have done the entire process, do I have someplace where I can register my children where I can get a secular education, where I’d be a resident? No. I don’t”
Hunter said she will continue as the parent delegation’s spokesperson and will continue to do what she can for her group’s cause. “If something is in place, I will look at it,” she said. “I will try and help with the process, but this has been emotionally brutal. Obviously this is very important to me. I have to protect my kids. If nobody is going to guarantee the law, I need to do it.”
Hunter said the entire process of dealing with GSACRD has been intimidating and that her group requested more transparency from the division through the survey process. Board Chair Turnbull said information about the survey would be on the GSACRD website by Tuesday evening.