By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Modular school units for a secular program will be in place no later than this December, Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) Superintendent David Keohane said Tuesday morning. The superintendent refuted the notion a delay in their placement has anything to do with a dispute between his division and the province.
“There is no quarrel whatsoever between the government and ourselves regarding accessibility to modulars,” Keohane said, noting the question is one of availability in time for September. Keohane said if the Parish Hall is used for Early Childhood Education and Kindergarten needs, two additional classrooms would be needed for a Grade 1-2 and Grade 3-4 split.
The GSACRD superintendent said the division met with representatives of Alberta Education and Capital Planning yesterday afternoon to discuss the matter. “They indicated they can get two modulars to a site that would be placed adjacent to Vanier School,” Keohane said. “The problem is they can’t get them there for September, but they indicated that within the list for modular deployment in the province, ours would be a first priority.”
Keohane said the latest possible date given for that deployment is sometime in December. What is being looked at jointly is the availability of two classrooms to be used by the Grades 1 to 4 students. That may require a temporary relocation at Namao or Camilla Schools. The superintendent said the possible temporary location would be until December at the latest and that he hoped parents who had waited this long could wait a couple of months longer.
“We are going to have a program up and running, it’s just that we can’t find two classrooms,” Keohane said. “We are exploring some additional means, but it could mean bussing for a couple of months.”
Keohane confirmed GSACRD has offered a classroom at Georges P. Vanier School as administrative and teacher preparation space. “That classroom would be the first classroom in the school adjacent to the modulars once they are hooked up,” he said, noting the school had one classroom available at Vanier. “We don’t have additional space there largely due to the very large special needs component of that school. We need to meet parental need for those students.” Keohane explained Vanier’s special needs program with its flex space is a role model in the province.
The superintendent said when the school year starts the division wants to get into discussions with Sturgeon School Division and Alberta Education to create a longer term conversation on the use of existing infrastructure. Much will be dependent on final enrolment numbers at the end of September. “Space will be available, it’s just that right now two classroom spaces are unknown,” Keohane said. “In any event they will be known with absolute certainty by no later than December and responsibility for bringing those spaces in is the government’s. We’re not at odds with the government about getting expansion space.” Keohane explained the real issue and an unfortunate one is the government cannot get the modular unit here in time for September.
It is a position the province shares. Alberta Education spokesperson Eoin Kenny said it is a matter of supply and demand. “If you figure out how much demand there is across the province for these modular classrooms, it takes some lead time to produce them and transport them where they need to be,” he said. “Most of the modular were spoken for. This was kind of a late request and December is as early as they can probably get there.”
Kenny said discussions between the two boards are on going and Alberta Education remains confident there will be a secular option for Morinville in Morinville come September. The spokesperson said there are options being explored within the town that would not require bussing for Kindergarten to Grade 4 students.
“Beyond that there just wasn’t enough numbers to make it work for the Grades 5 to 12,” Kenny said, noting as the secular option in Morinville matures, grades could be added.
Sturgeon moving forward
Sturgeon School Division (SSD) Superintendent Dr. Michéle Dick is hoping Morinville parents will hang in while solutions are worked out over the next week or two.
“We appreciate the patience of our parents who wish to see a public education offering for their children in Morinville, and for whom the uncertainty has been frustrating,” Dick said in a release Tuesday afternoon. “We recognize that it is difficult to commit to a school placement for your child when there is no facility or long term plan in sight”.
The press release goes on to say SSD was informed July 21 of two locations for their non-faith-based program – a single classroom at Vanier and the rental of the Morinville RC Parish Hall. Neither venue was deemed suitable for the division’s planned ECS to Grade 4 program. Additionally, they were informed Alberta Education had decided to withdraw the offer of a modular school for this year due to financial and planning concerns.
The situation prompted SSD to send a letter to Education Minister Dave Hancock and to GSACRD Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull expressing their disappointment and frustration with the decisions. The letter was followed by a request to attend a meeting with Alberta Education and GSACRD late Monday afternoon where facilities were once again discussed.
Sturgeon expects to hear more about the possibilities later this week, leaving them a month to make final plans for student arrivals. The press release goes on to state the division is pressing on with program planning in anticipation of a positive decision regarding a facility.
Parents registered for the Morinville Public School will receive formal letters this week about classroom scenarios and registrations will continue to be accepted through the month of August as facilities are determined.