Readers respond to Morinville secular issue

Editor’s note: We have received a number of letters regarding the latest developments on the Morinville Public School issue. We have combined all of today’s letters into one entry. Many are open letters to the Minister of Education.

Letter 1:

To: Alberta Minister of Education, Dave Hancock

I’m so glad I moved; I’m just not sure I moved far enough.

Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD), being the public division, and you, Minister of Education, invite Sturgeon School Division (SSD) to be an unwelcomed public division guest within Morinville.

I received very disturbing news from a meeting with SSD yesterday and learned that there will be no modulars brought to Morinville. That public education as Canada knows it is a pipe dream in Morinville. How can a single religion permeate a public division? How does this represent Alberta’s diverse community? How is religious indoctrination within a publicly funded publicly designated education system endorsed by the state? You stated GSACRD is a public division no different than any other public division. It is time to reread the Alberta Constitution and the Ordinances; but this time really read them. Yes, separate schools have a right to exist. The religious instruction and exercises protected in the Constitution for both Public and the Separate schools is: opening the school day with the Lord’s Prayer and thirty minutes at the end of the instructional day –both of which are optional. Exemption from all religious instruction is required if the parents request it. No student shall be deprived of the ordinary education they would otherwise receive.

There is no constitutional protection to permeate religious instruction in Public or Separate schools. Public schools are for all. Unfortunately when religion is involved, the lines are drawn and there are no compromises, no “partnerships”. At least none that will actually be fulfilled as is evident by the lack of modulars in Morinville and the refusal of GSACRD to provide classrooms for secular education. As a former Morinville resident I asked for a place within my public school division that was neutral, secular, and exempt from Catholic permeation. I was denied and told to look to other public divisions to fulfil GSACRD’s obligation as a public school division. GSACRD and you, Mr. Minister, came upon a compromise to invite SSD within Morinville into modulars and now you deny the promised modulars? I remember in June you wrote that you were “baffled”; you stated Morinville parents are “getting what we want”. Well … how is education without electoral rights and representation within my public division – getting what I want? Promises of modulars within Morinville being taken away right at the implementation stage –getting what I want? Bussed out of the community for not wanting another’s religion permeated through my children’s entire instructional day at a public school –getting what I want?

I want a public division that invites its entire public into a publicly funded public education system that creates an environment that is welcoming to all faiths without one faith being elevated in representation in the halls and in the classroom. I want my voting rights and my right to run for trustee within a resident public secular school division. This is what I want! I don’t know anyone who would give rights away and become a second class citizen. Yes, on paper, I would still have rights within GSACRD, but I hardly call a school division that denies my representation within it’s division as having rights.

There are two systems in Alberta; one for everyone in the public system and one for those wanting and choosing a Catholic or Protestant educational system. I chose public but have been denied because of an anomaly in Morinville that you, my Alberta Minister of Education, will not attend to. My province, my birth province cannot guarantee me a public non-religiously permeated education with all the rights that go with it in Morinville. I had to relocate into another division’s boundary to get it. One should not have to move to get the public education guaranteed to all. Morinville is part of Alberta, a part of Canada; It’s small but it counts. I’m so glad I moved; I’m just not sure I moved far enough.

Sincerely,

Carol Sparks

Letter 2

Mr. Hancock,

It was my understanding that you acknowledged that the education system in Morinville was not an acceptable option for the entire community. It seemed as though you understood the urgency of the situation, and were willing to help the members of this community to receive a proper public education. After attending the meeting with Sturgeon School Division yesterday it has become obvious to me that you are not willing to help. It appears that you are perfectly content to watch us struggle, despite your responsibilities.

Our request is simple. We want our children to receive a proper public education. Something our town does not provide. We have pleaded with you to help us. The solution to have Sturgeon School Division come in as a “partner” was proposed. It looked like it was a step in the right direction, even though we were being forced to forfeit our voting rights in the division that our children would have been attending, making this solution convoluted at best. We were still willing to do this, because a proper public education meant that much to us.

Many members of this community were elated by the news that a true public option would be available in September. We all started making arrangements, withdrawing our children from the fully permeated Catholic education that until now they had no choice but to attend. Each one of us had to sit down with our young children and explain that they would be leaving their school to attend a different school, getting them excited about meeting new friends and new teachers. Many of us decided that we were willing to ostracize ourselves by “coming out” in support of this wonderful cause, because we believe so firmly that a proper public education is a necessary thing to have in a community with a population of 8,000. GSACRD is operating outside of the law by running a public school while allowing Catholicism to fully permeate the curriculum, and it is irresponsible to allow it to continue.

After attending a meeting with Sturgeon School Division yesterday and hearing the news that infrastructure would not be in place by September, saying that I am devastated would be an understatement. I have shuffled my entire life around for this, and more importantly my children have now become involved. This is unacceptable! You are an elected official, sent to office by the public that you have ignored and lied to! I sincerely hope that you will fix this before September. I find it hard to believe that you are willing to go down in history as the Education Minister that point blank lied to a group of school aged children.

Regards,
Rayann Menard

Letter 3:

Dear Minister Hancock:

Lied to Again.

Once again the current Government of Alberta and the Greater St. Albert PUBLIC School Division has lied to citizens of Morinville and Alberta. Having promised the citizens of Morinville back in June that as a short term interim measure, a new PUBLIC school would be offered in Morinville this September 2011, for parents who chose not to have the fully permeated Catholic education forced on their children by the current PUBLIC school Board GSACRD, yesterday the citizens were advised that both GSACRD and Alberta Education will not provide that PUBLIC school.

Many people want to cloud the issue. The issue is the town of Morinville has four PUBLIC schools. These schools are currently operated by the Greater St. Albert “Catholic” (Public) Regional Division. These schools are being operated as if they were SEPARATE Schools. Religious instruction is completely and fully permeating the entire instructional day, formal and informal.

Setting aside the fact that many parents are already daily driving their children out of town as they will not stand for the fully permeated religious education that GSACRD is forcing into the four schools, less than 30% of the children attending all four of these schools self-identify as Roman Catholic. The issue, raised by a group of residents of this division, is that the public schools in Morinville need to act as PUBLIC schools, like everywhere else in Alberta and Canada.

As an interim solution, and one which is illegal under the laws of Alberta and Canada, the Government of Alberta forced GSACRD to partner with Sturgeon School Division to try to establish a fifth public school inside the GSACRD region of Morinville. GSACRD stated that they have no obligation to provide a non-faith-based education to the citizens of Morinville, even though you, Minister, clearly stated that they must do so. So they ignored you, and you let them.
Then, both GSACRD and the Department of Education stiffed Sturgeon School Division, denying them access to the four publicly funded and publicly built schools that GSACRD operates on behalf of the Alberta government in Morinville. The new school promised in June at a public meeting in Morinville, was then denied as it will cost money to move the units to Morinville. Unbelievable! Both GSACRD and Alberta Education knew it would cost money in June but now they announce that maybe a solution can be found in 2012?

In all of this Sturgeon School Division and the citizens of Morinville have been lied to and played. They believed the current Government of Alberta when they stated they would fund and support the establishment of this interim solution, illegal as it might be.

In the past two decades GSACRD has continuously ignored, denied and disrespected anyone not of their faith. They have broken the laws of Canada and Alberta, inventing an imaginary “legislative mandate”. The law is clear and they have no “legislative mandate” that puts them above the law! Now they have formally and publicly ignored and defied you, the Minister of Education, three times. What has this Government done? It has tried to invent an illegal short term solution which it then has refused to fund.

Since the Government of Alberta meeting with GSACRD on March 23, 2011, the position of GSACRD has not changed. They state they have NO obligation to provide a secular education as a PUBLIC school board. Enough.

The law is clear. Every child is entitled to a public education free from religious instruction, indoctrination and dogma, from their RESIDENT Public School Board. In Morinville the law has been intentionally violated by GSACRD and the Government of Alberta for decades. Again, not counting those already being driven out of town daily by their parents, 70% of the town’s enrolled students are not of the Catholic faith. That statistic is redundant. Public schools are secular. Separate schools are faith based. If the citizens of Morinville want a separate school, there is a clear, legal process to establish just that.
Knowing that the public have repeatedly tried and failed to get GSACRD to meet their legal and ethical obligations, and that you, the Minister of Education, has tried and failed to have GSACRD recognize their obligation under the law, the Government must immediately re-designate the geographic area of Morinville to a public school board that does understand their obligation. The schools in Morinville must be transferred to a “real” public school board. You have the authority as the Minister and it is used routinely to handle demographic changes in Alberta annually. Do it now, here, for a far better reason, enforcement of the laws of Canada and Alberta.

If the current political party in majority does not believe they have an obligation to enforce the laws of this Province and our country, then they have lost the right to govern.

Morinville must have a Public school, for K to 12, and it must be now! No more lies and illegal solutions. GSACRD must be removed.

David Redman

Letter 4:

Dear Mr. Hancock,

I am a parent of two children in Morinville, Alberta. I have written you letters in regards to the education system currently in place in my town and how unfair it is to force children to a school that is not of their religious belief. In your letter back to me you stated that there will be secular education IN MORINVILLE for SEPT 2011 and not to worry. I attended the press conference where GSACRD told us about the merge with SSD to offer us a public education but it would be in modulars this year. Now I hear this is not happening. No one wants to pay for it, GSACRD is unwilling to even give us enough classrooms to accommodate. NOW I am very worried. If you can lie to us and GSACRD can lie to us what on earth are we teaching our children? I talked to them about how they would be moving to a new school, meeting new teachers and friends and that was going to be a hard transition for us all but one that is very worth it. Now what do you expect me to tell them, that we were lied to? That they must learn about a Religion that is not our own? That they have to be like a Catholic or they will not be accepted in our town? They have to look at the life-sized Jesus on a cross every single day at school and wonder why? NOT FAIR.

I put my heart into this and hung up posters, attended meetings, info sessions, press conferences, spoke to other parents in the community and marched in the parade with MY CHILDREN with pride to support this moment in History. Members in my community have heckled us in public and made us feel unwelcome in our own community. Now I am supposed to put my children back into the Catholic school so they can be harassed, embarrassed and bullied. I will NOT tolerate this. Shipping them to another community for school is NOT an option at all and is unacceptable for a town of 8,000 people. How can you allow GSACRD to decide what is best for MY children?

I am a first generation Canadian Citizen. My parents both fled from their own communist countriess in Europe. They were forced to go to the schools provided to them, learn about another religion that was not their own and speak a language that was not even the language of their country. They fled to Canada to give their children and grandchildren FREEDOM. I look at our situation here in Morinville and DO NOT see FREEDOM. It seems like we are living in a different time and country more like the ones my family fled from. This is not right, not right at all.

The solution is very simple and very cost efficient but can only happen when YOU step up and do your job. There are two elementary schools in Morinville. Why not give one school to the Public System and keep the other one as Catholic. Seems very fair as there are 70% of residents in Morinville that are NOT CATHOLIC! Most parents have not registered their children yet as there is no school to register at, people want to know where the school is. If you were to just hand over the keys to one school guaranteed it would be filled. OR we start from scratch and do it LEGALLY and make everything Public then see if the community wants to start a separate school. I do think that having one PUBLIC and one CATHOLIC school is very reasonable to all and also doable. You need to help this community that is being torn apart by this situation. If there were two school (one Public and one Catholic) everyone would be happy as everyone would be winners. Help us fix our community so that we can all be equals and winners.

Thank You
Eva Scrimshaw

Letter 5:

To Minister of Education Dave Hancock,

In June, you stated there will be a secular public education option be made available in Morinville for Sept. 2011. Will you fulfill such promise, Minister Hancock?

On July 25, 2011, we were advised by SSD that their intentions have not changed. They remain committed to being the public education provider. However, they cannot provide such a program when there is no facility in place. The modulars that were promised to house the students are now off the table as Alberta Education and Greater St. Albert Public School cannot come to an agreement.

Preschool and kindergarten students will be housed at the Parish Hall. Grades 1-4 students will be bussed out of the community. This is clearly unacceptable. Why should we be bussing our children out of a town with four public schools, in order to receive a public education, free of religious permeation?

All other infrastructure options were declined by Alberta Education. Having no other options available, SSD requested 6-8 classrooms and to share space with one of the local schools in town. GSACRD denied such request. GSACRD was willing to provide just one classroom. Is this a reasonable solution?

There are only five more weeks left before school begins.

If my children are forced to leave the town of Morinville in order to receive a proper public education then I request you, Minister Hancock, to personally come to my house and tell my children: ages 3, 6, and 7 why they do not have the same rights as other children in Alberta or the rest of Canada, when it comes to public education. And why you, Minister of Education, refuse to do anything about it.

Sincerely,

Marjorie Kirsop, mother of 3 young children
Resident of Morinville-town with over 8,000 residents, 4 public schools, but no public education available.

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15 Comments

  1. All of you need to take a step back and realize this cannot happen yesterday. Your lack of forethought in the pursuit of your “entitlement” has rendered this circumstance of confusion and frustration. Some of you had been satisfied with the status-quo until one or two parents found a Christmas craft in their kids’ back pack last December.

    I agree there needs to be a public school in Morinville. This is a fiasco because you all decided to jump out of bed one morning to threaten the government and school boards with Charter related breaches and legislative mandates. If it wasn’t clear that morning, it ought to be clear tonight, you did it wrong.

    Perhaps you see it differently. You now have the option of sending your child to the grade 1/2/3/4 split class at the old Fields store where gym class will be held in the Sobeys parking lot and library period will be at the magazine rack in the Mac’s store. I’m sure most of those registrered in the public school will be opting out and going back to what they had that regretful morning. Perhaps, whispering a morning prayer may be the only hope they have of getting a public school overnight.

  2. Very well said Kerry. Many of us agree there should be non-faith based schooling in Morinville, but the way this has come about is wrong.

  3. To Kerry, maybe you can enlighten us on the proper way of going about getting a public education for our children. Since we have been attempting to achieve this since last September and there has only been one obstacle or another put in our way. We are trying for a solution that will work with everyone. I can think of 2 ways this should be done but I am sure GSACRD supporters would not be too happy with. The first is forcing our public school system to be a public school system. This would mean that GSACRD would not be having religion permeated in every subject through out the day. Since GSACRD is a Catholic board this is not what they are willing to do. The other option would remove GSACRD as our public school system and Morinville would have it’s own public school system and the Catholics could apply to have a seperate school system. This would put Morinville where every other town in Alberta is. So if these options do not sound right to you then again I ask you to enlighten us on how we can accomplish our goal.

  4. Well Misty, that’s a great solution! Freak out and carry on with irrational and extreme measures. All I am saying is this isn’t going to happen overnight or in a year or maybe not even in three years. What you’re talking about is revamping an entire branch of a large school district. The proper way to go about it is to be diplomatic and purposeful rather than running into the streets screaming that you just realized your Charter Rights have been bound. The uprising that began but seven or eight months ago has only caused grief for everyone involved, including you.

    Just so we’re clear “every other town in Alberta” does not have their own school board, I promise. I can only dismiss your two well thought out solutions as being facetious because no reasonable person would think dissolving the current school board or converting four established schools are logical solutions.

    Your goal, Misty, will be accomplished and I can’t wait until it is. The cause of the drama is people who have chosen to jump up and lose their minds before understanding the fundamentals of how schools get built and the politics involved at levels higher than what gets discussed on the playground when we pick up our children every afternoon.

    If you think this doesn’t affect the folks who are satisfied with the current arrangement, think again. Allegedly, there were nearly 180 kids registered in the public program at first count. Now there are 55. My kids’ school now needs to find a place for those who bailed on the wonderful public school. Are our class sizes now bigger? Do we deal with split classes? What about the budget for teachers and support staff? My Rights have not been breached and I’m not going lose my head about it. Believe me, I can’t wait for the public school to be up and running so this can be over. Unfortunately, it wont be overnight.

  5. Any of you who are so fond of bad-mouthing those who would stand up for the rights of their children need a reality check. I notice none of the detractors here are brave enough to put their full names on display. How cowardly.

    Those who say that secular families should “buck up and deal with it”; just imagine that instead of a Catholic-Public school board in town, it was a Muslim-Public one. There’d be no “forced participation” in the religious happenings in the school, but the literature and procedures would be permeated throughout the buildings. I’m sure it would be a huge issue if your little Johnny and Susie were in a school where they pray to Allah everyday instead of Jesus.

    This is the exact problem we have with the Catholic board.

    Atheist or agnostic spiritual views are not valued at all in this country. The current situation is in this town is pathetic. The ridicule that these brave parents face, most likely from people with “Christian family-values”, is beyond sad. The religious bigotry in this town makes me think that Morinville should change their slogan to “Canada’s Alabama!”

    To the Town Council of Morinville, pay attention. While technically this is a provincial issue, you are taking a huge public relations black eye with this issue. How can you attract families to this town when the school board prefers only Christian ones? This vibe is exactly what your new economic development plan does not need.

    GSACRD’s actions sicken me. Most of us are frustrated with trying to have a logical argument with illogical people.

  6. Clayton, calm down. Fortunately, you don’t live in Alabama because the bus ride to the current Sturgeon schools would be a lot longer. All we are saying is stop rushing this program so it will function properly. Clearly, the freaking out and stomping around didn’t work. Instead of using words like “sickening” and “cowards”, try working with people. Generally, the result is more appetizing.

  7. Thanks Clayton! Kerry, I wonder if you have been to any of the information sessions or have sat down and talked to the parents delegation about the steps they have taken. We did not jump out of our beds one day and thought we want to start something that would cause us to feel like second class citizens in our own community. There were many meetings with both the board and the Minister of education before all of this went public. Meetings where help was asked by the parents to come up with a workable solution between all parties. It was the absolute refusal by GSACRD and the Minister of education to even help us with the process,that sparked all the media and Human rights issues to surface. We are not unreasonable people who can not work with the educational system to try and come up with some solution. GSCARD has not been willing to work with anyone until they were pushed by the Minister. As for the other choices I mentioned, this is not what we want to happen this is what we were told could happen. GSACRD was told by the Minister of Education to offer a public option to the community and they refused. We were also told that the Minister has the power to change the districts. Morinville was not always part of GSACRD. I am just relaying information that I have learned in the last couple months. But if you had taken part in any of the discussions on this topic you would already know all this.

  8. Putting labels such as coward or any other you can think of on another puts more of a label on you than the person you’re attacking. We all, and I mean ALL of us, need to take a step back and think before we speak. Being hurtful or rude to others for the sake of advancing your argument only makes you look little and ignorant. I am all for keeping the schools EXACTLY as they are but I am not for bashing anyone for their beliefs. If people want a secular option for their children then that is their choice. It seems to me we are all reacting too quickly to the news we hear. GSACRD, the Education Minister and Sturgeon seem to be working to provide what they said they would provide. Their manner may suck at times but I think if we all have patience it will get done.

  9. Educated Rational Democratic Parents VS Hillbilly Catholics

    Stop wasting your time defending our cause. We know all of the legalities and have done everything the way we should do it in this issue. It takes courage and brains to stand up for your rights and the rights of others. We will get harassed and bullied in the true Catholic fashion but will it stop us from proceeding….HELL NO!!!

    To be a sheep is a no brainier…to be a wolf requires thought and a backbone.

    To those who object to the rights of others your just plain silly because you have no idea what you are saying and just make us look smarter so keep on truckin’

    • Let’s keep it civil, people.

      Labeling all Catholics, all atheists, all Jews, all fill-in-the-blank is not acceptable.

      Attack the argument, not the person’s faith.

  10. @ kenny While it is pleasing that you support a secular education option, it is disappointing that you are wanting your allies in the cause to back off – for how long?

    We do know that the Roman Catholic hierarchy greatly treasures whatever grip it can get on education, and the indoctrination of young minds. And so it is, that we see correspondents raising every possible objection to what should be a simple task – to convert a good part of the school capacity in this town to a secular format.

    We are being told that those who clamour for their rights have put their case the wrong way. Slow down is the call from those who wish to kill the issue altogether (in spite of their words of understanding!)

    Mature politicians and mature members of the public will know not to shoot any messengers, but to look at the issue on its considerable merits.

    We need to get beyond the Roman Catholic apologetics and world view. This is an issue of human rights – and secular society has led the way on human rights – not the churches. Think of rights concerning marital status, sexual orientation, gender equality .. these are the values that our young need to understand in the 21st century. Allow them freedom from museums of antiquity!

    As it is, the town of Morinville is an international laughing stock. This must not be allowed to continue.

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