By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – After months of being a hotly discussed issue in the community, residents will have the opportunity Thursday night to attend a public forum on the secular school issue in Morinville. The Calgary-based Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership will be holding the public meeting at the Seniors Rendez-vous Centre from 7 to 9 p.m. and have lined up a number of speakers to discuss Public Education: What Should it Be, and How do we Achieve It?
Foundation President Janet Keeping said her organization has had a strong interest in public education since the foundation’s inception. In fact, the organization’s namesake, Sheldon Chumir, an MLA for Calgary-Buffalo who died in office, was greatly interested in public education.
“There is a very long-standing connection between the Chumir Foundation and the public education issue,” Keeping said, adding the forum would give participants an opportunity to hear different views on the subject. “The specific purpose is to give people who want it an opportunity to come together in a public forum to talk about what their views are on how the situation in Morinville should be resolved.”
One of the speakers lined up for the public forum is Dave King, minister of education under Premier Peter Lougheed.
Although King recently gained attention for his petition to disestablish separate schools, Keeping explained the speaker has more than a one note message.
“David has certainly identified himself as being in favour of what he terms the disestablishment of separate schools,” Keeping said, adding the foundation has had a long discussion with King about his views and that despite his thoughts on separate schools he is a religious man. “The point of having David speak at the Morinville event has less to do with that because the issue in Morinville is not the disestablishment of Catholic education. It’s quite the opposite.”
Keeping said as she understands the issue, the Morinville parents are simply seeking a secular public option and the foundation has asked King to speak on his positive conception of what public education should be.
Other speakers lined up for the event include Frank Peters from the University of Alberta’s faculty of education who will speak about the evolution of public education and Linda McKay-Panos, a lawyer and legal educator who will speak about education law, human rights, civil liberties and constitutional law.
Keeping said the primary speakers will have approximately 10 minutes each, followed by representatives of various groups who will also be given a chance to speak briefly.
“We want to leave time for a question and answer session,” Keeping said. “We don’t want the whole two hours taken up with presentations, but we have given various groups an opportunity to speak and the parents group is one of those groups.”
Not all groups participating
Keeping said invitations were extended to the Department of Education, the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional School Division (GSACRD), Public School Boards Association of Alberta and the parents’ delegation. Of the four groups invited, only the parents’ group and The Public School Boards Association of Alberta have accepted the invitation to attend and speak.
Keeping said she was disappointed GSACRD declined to participate in the forum, but pointed out the event will be impartial.
“We’re really not advancing any view in this public forum,” she said. “We’re really not. We were asked to hold this forum because the parents’ group wanted a public forum to be held where people could exchange their views. Our objective is to provide a venue where there is some structure [and] there is some knowledge.”
The Chumir foundation president said she does not anticipate the forum would resolve anything, but believes there is a large value in public engagement. “It doesn’t just mean letters to the editor, and it doesn’t just mean blogging and all of that,” Keeping said. “It means people eye to eye, exchanging views and hearing and responding. And we do our utmost to ensure that these things are civil. We’re pretty strict about what goes on at our events and we won’t tolerate disrespect, off-putting language or intimidation.”
Keeping said despite the strict rules, the foundation is hoping to provide a convivial but serious event that is productive and useful to the community.
Public Education: What Should it Be, and How do we Achieve It? takes place May 5 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Morinville seniors’ Rendez-vous Centre, located at 9913 104 Street.
Editor’s Note: The Public School boards Association of Alberta is not to be confussed with the Alberta School Boards Association.