Province to hold faith census re Morinville secular school issue

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – With Morinville students back in their respective schools, both Catholic and secular, Alberta Education announced Tuesday morning it will take the next step in finding a long-term solution to the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) secular education issue.

The province will spend $125,000 to conduct a census of St. Albert, Morinville, Legal and parts of Sturgeon County to determine whether Catholics or Protestants are the minority faith among electors in the four areas being covered by the census. Minority faith is determined by comparing the number of eligible electors declared Roman Catholic with those declared Protestant within each community. Other faiths are recorded by the census but ineligible to establish a separate school board. Traditionally, the dominant faith is granted public status, while a minority faith is permitted to establish a separate school division.

The prominence of Catholicism in the area has historically given GSACRD public school status in St. Albert, Morinville and Legal, while Protestants have been given separate school status. Because Catholic education was the only option available in Morinville, a group of parents challenged GSACRD’s decision it would not offer a non-faith-based education in its schools. The issue started in the 2010 municipal election and culminated in Sturgeon School Division being selected by GSACRD to provide a secular education for Morinville students whose parents wished that type of education for their children. The current availability of Early Childhood Education through Grade 4 is the partnership’s short-term solution.

Education Minister Dave Hancock said determining whether Catholics of Protestants are the minority faith in the area will allow the province to consider all options to represent the interests of both minority- and majority-faith electors in the communities affected in creating a long-term solution.

“What we need to do now as we go into planning the long-term piece is an actual census of the Greater St. Albert area to determine what the majority and minority faiths are,” Hancock said. “While we’re doing that we’ll also get some demographic information for planning purposes.”

Hancock said the results of the census will in no way affect parents’ ability to choose the educational program they feel best meets their children’s needs. The minister said what he is looking for by ordering the census is what all the available options are by collecting the data needed to make that determination.

“We’ve got some work to do between now and any long-term solution,” Hancock said. “There are a number of variables that come into play. The census is really just information gathering of baseline data so that everybody has some solid verifiable information upon which to make decisions.

First census – not first head count

As part of the process to determine how much interest there was in a non-Catholic education in Morinville, GSACRD was asked by the minister to conduct an independent $30,000 survey of Morinville parents with children in school as well as a random sampling of other Morinville residents.

The online and mail-in surveys sent out in June went to the 1,161 families in Morinville with 334 responding, a response rate of 28.8 per cent. Additionally, 1,514 residents were contacted by phone with 558 completing the phone survey, a response rate of 36.9 per cent. From the survey results, it was estimated between 106 and 272 Morinville students would enrol in a non-faith-based program in the community if one existed, the lower number representing a 6.2 per cent shift in enrolment from GSACRD to the secular program. Of that 106 number it was estimated 74 were elementary students, 18 junior high and the 12 high school students. However, as of the start of the school year a total of approximately 65 students are enrolled in Sturgeon’s program across all grade levels. Final registration numbers will be recorded at the end of September.

Hancock said the survey was designed to collect data so the initial program could be put in place by fall, the census to provide data for options on a longer-term solution. “We’ve always made it clear that our first priority was the short-term solution and getting a classroom open for kids,” he said, adding at that point work on a long-term solution would begin. “I don’t think it is a surprise to anybody that part of that was the need to do a proper census and gather the information.”

The minister said he is pleased with the cooperation between GSARD and Sturgeon School Division and the partnership’s cooperation with the province to make a short-term solution available.

Census forms to come later this month

Census forms will be mailed to local households in late September with follow-up communications beginning October. It is anticipated the census will be completed by the end of the year.

Eligible electors must be Canadian citizens, 18 years of age or older who have resided in Alberta for at least six months prior to the census.

Sept. 6 Press Release on Announcment

Editor’s note: Below is a press released issued by the Minister of Education’s office Tuesday morning. Our full story on the matter will follow later today.

Part of long-term solution to GSACRD secular education issue

Edmonton… A census will be held in St. Albert, Morinville, Legal and parts of Sturgeon County beginning in September to determine whether Catholics or Protestants are the minority faith among resident electors in these areas.

The decision to conduct the census follows parents’ requests for a secular education program in Morinville, a program the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) says it could not accommodate within its regular program. GSACRD is the only public school board serving Legal and Morinville.

“Determination of minority faith will allow government to consider all options to appropriately represent the interests of minority- and majority-faith electors in these communities and to develop a long-term solution to the issue of secular education in Morinville,” said Education Minister Dave Hancock.

GSACRD and neighbouring Sturgeon School Division recently negotiated an agreement to have Sturgeon provide a secular program in Morinville beginning this school year.

“The provision of education in the Greater St. Albert area has served the needs of students well for decades,” said Hancock. “This declaration will have no bearing on a parent’s ability to choose the educational program that best meets the needs of their children.”

The minority faith is determined by comparing the number of eligible electors declared Roman Catholic with those declared Protestant within each community.

Census forms will be mailed to local households in late September. Follow-up communications will be conducted beginning in October. The census is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Eligible electors must be Canadian citizens, 18 years of age or older who have resided in Alberta for at least six months prior to the census.

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9 Comments

  1. As far as I am concerned, let’s take religion right out of this situation. The mere fact that this census is religion based makes it doomed to fail. How many other areas in Alberta (or Canada for that matter) have the Catholic religion as their “Public School” status? Public schools should ALL be non religious. Look around folks, in a few years there will be other religions that will overtake both the Catholic and Protestant religions in followers! Then what?

  2. This ought to be enlightening. I still would like to see the board answer the CCLA’s letter however.

    Regards;

    Thomas Kirsop

  3. Finally….This is great news!!! Thank you Buddha!!!!!

    Profound truth, so difficult to perceive, difficult to understand, tranquilizing and sublime, is not to be gained by mere reasoning and is perceived only by the wise. [Buddha]

  4. One question. What happened to all the students that were going to be flooding the doors of this new secular school? Seems to me this is a huge issue for some and for most people it sits somewhere between deciding to use supreme or regular gasoline. It’s sad how even some of the parents who were very vocal about this debate didn’t end up sending their kids to the new school. A person who professes certain ideals, but fails to live up to them (Urban Dictionary’s definition of hyprocrite) If it’s admiral that the parents who fought for this school are actually sending their kids there, would it be safe to conclude that those who fought for this school and are sending their kids to St. Albert/Namao/etc are not? You can’t kick up that kind of stink and not follow through with actions, otherwise you will be known as someone who complains for the sake of complaining. It’s different if you keep your opinions to yourself versus being public about them. I tip my proverbial hat to people who did what they said they would. To everyone else who didn’t, stop complaining.

  5. @ Harvey
    I guess by YOUR terms we are one of those hypocrite families who have been fighting for the right to public, inclusive, non-denominational, resident education for our children that are not accepting this band-aid temporary solution and sending all of our children to the new Sturgeon school. Before you paint us all with the same brush let me publicly explain our family’s personal decisions to answer your question. In our situation unfortunately there was not enough enrollment in the French Immersion program initially offered by Sturgeon and we had no choice, if we wanted our older children to continue in a program they have been in since Kindergarten, but to enroll them in St. Albert. It was a difficult decision for us. We wanted them to go to the new school and gave them the option about dropping French altogether but they made the choice to continue with that program and we respect their choices and will always do what we view best for our children academically. Our youngest daughter does attend the new Sturgeon school in the Pre-School Enrichment Program and we have been extremely happy with what we have experienced in the new school. Eventually this problem will be solved and our hope is there will be more enrollment in a French Immersion program offered by Sturgeon and our children can return to their community for their educational needs. Believe me the commute to and from St. Albert four times a day has not been fun!

    That being said we will continue to fight and “kick up a stink” for what is right, legal and in the best interests of our children and all the children of our community, whether enrolled in GSACRD schools, Sturgeon schools or St. Albert schools.
    This census is the first step to ensuring that there is genuine public education in Morinville for those that choose it.
    Kind regards.

  6. @ Harvey

    Your rants are silly and meaningless. You are COMPLETELY missing the point on the entire situation and it shows in your little online tantrums. There is no need to explain the ACTUAL situtation as it has been explained OVER AND OVER. YES my children do attend and we will see this to the very end so just get used to it. It is in the hands of the Government now, let them do their job and fix this once and for all.

    I am pretty sure that there is a golden rule(for ALL religions)….
    If you dont have anything nice to say, dont say anything at all!!!

  7. My concern with the census is that it compares Catholics to Protestants(Lutheran, Anglican, United, Ect) Which will probably lean in favour of the Catholics. It states that it does not compare other religions (muslim, Budhist, JW, Ect) as well as will not count Atheist or Undecided people.

    Why do Protestants only count to make the public school system non secular.

    This is only going to fuel the flames on both sides of this.

  8. I guess if there were enough kids in the secular school there would be French Immersion. hmmmmm. Food for thought. (Careful, there may be circle thinking involved) Again, it is all in the numbers.

    Eva, …..nevermind

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