MCHS gets packed house to hear education minister speak on Morinville issue

Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk speaks to media after Thursday night's meeting with GSACRD parents and students. - Stephen Dafoe Photos

Student-made banners hang from the balcony at MCHS Thursday. A large turnout of students came to the meeting to hear and to speak. - Submitted Photo
By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Roughly 800 parents, students and members of the community filled the Morinville Community High School gymnasium Thursday night to hear Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk speak on the Morinville school issue and to give him their thoughts on the same.

Lukaszuk said he expects to make a decision on just where Morinville’s secular students will attend school this fall within a matter of days. “I don’t like to sit on decisions,” Lukaszuk said. “I find that if I wait longer I don’t wind up making decisions that are any better. I just wind up frustrating Albertans. I like to make quick decisions but well thought out based on fact.” Lukaszuk said he believed he now had all the facts he needed after Thursday night’s meeting with those who will be most impacted by the decision, and that he’d asked to meet with the school boards to discuss things further Thursday night.

In his comments at the beginning of the three-hour meeting, Lukaszuk said he had not yet made a decision on infrastructure for Morinville secular students, a position he was challenged on by several speakers during the question period portion of the evening. Applause from the audience seemed to indicate many in attendance were in agreement a decision had been made. The education minister said whatever the infrastructure choice was it must meet several criteria: it had to be available for September 2012; it must have facilities for a library and gymnasium; it must be able to accommodate at least kindergarten to Grade 6; it must have capacity for growth, and it must minimize the disruption to the student population of Morinville.

Lukaszuk said five options were before them for the secular public school -one of Morinville’s four existing schools or the Sturgeon School Division offices in Morinville, the latter of which got a large round of applause from the majority of attendees. The minister went on to say it was determined the most likely candidates were Notre Dame, G. P. Vanier or the division office. The two existing elementary schools met four of the criteria but would cause student disruption. The minister explained the division office would not be convertible by the fall, would not accommodate kindergarten to Grade 6, does not allow for growth, but did present limited disruption to student population.

Variety of thoughts

The predominantly pro-Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division school supporters expressed a variety of concerns with the proposed Bill 4, a piece of legislature now given second reading and which seeks to switch GSACRD’s designation from public to separate. The majority of the evening was given over to questions and comments from parents, students and others on the matter. Many MCHS students spoke of their support for their school and concerns about changes to the system.

Michael Cust
Although the issue of faith based vs. non-faith-based schooling dominated the questions and comments, parental and stakeholder concerns ranged from the disruption and availability of schooling for special needs children, the availability of French Immersion programing, the ramifications of Bill 4 decisions in Legal, and even calls for the minister to reconsider Bill 4 and keep GSACRD the public school board. The latter suggestion, put forward by Morinville resident Michael Cust, received applause from a large majority of the audience, particularly after Cust compared a small group of people moving to Morinville and seeking secular education with people moving to Quebec and then complaining everything was written in French.

Although questions and comments varied, many parents expressed their concerns about the potential loss of an existing and familiar school and the potential loss of teacher’s jobs. A few parents expressed the opinion the secular students should be bussed outside the community, at least until a school could be built in Morinville to house them.

Alanna Dalton speaks to minister
One parent, Alanna Dalton, was particularly passionate in her questions and comments. Dalton said most parents were fine with the fact there would be a Catholic system and a public system, but drew the line at giving up a school. “We’re fine with that, but what we’re not fine with is our kids being booted out for a select few,” Dalton said, adding her concerns of a connection between non-faith-based education and atheism. “Atheism is a recognized religion in Canada. How are you going to guarantee to me that if my children go in a separate system that’s not going to be pressed upon them? “ Dalton called for the attendees to signify if they agreed with what she was saying, and a large percentage of the audience showed their support. Dalton went on to say she was not Catholic but felt parents who choose to send their children to a Catholic school post Bill 4 flip would lose their voting rights. “You’re taking away our voice, and you’re claiming you are doing it for human rights. Really all you are doing is changing who you are discriminating against,” Dalton said.

Gillian Schaefer Percy, one of the original parents who fought for a public education in Morinville, took issue with the connecting of secular education and atheism. “I’d like to make some clarification on what secular education is because it seems to have become synonymous with atheism in this town,” she said. “Our school is not comprised of 100 per cent atheists. They’re comprised of 100 per cent of people who recognize that they want their children taught without one religious focus.” Percy went on to say Morinville Public Elementary School is comprised of Christians, including Protestants and Catholics, many of whom have simply taken the stance they prefer to teach their faith at home or in their respective churches.

Pastor Greg Fraser calls for peace among all sides.
One man very familiar with church is Morinville Christian Fellowship Pastor Greg Fraser who spoke as a parent to the high quality of education GSACRD schools offered his daughter. Pastor Fraser also spoke to the greater need for the community to come together on the issue. “As the pastor of a church of about 300 people in this community, I’m very concerned that we’re losing sight of the bigger picture,” he said. “And the bigger picture is what makes this an incredible community. The bigger picture is tolerance. The bigger picture is love. The bigger picture is kindness. I’m concerned as a pastor, and I have been praying for this event because I’m seeing a polarization happening in our community that greatly concerns me. My prayer for all of us is whether you are Catholic, whether you are Protestant or whether you hold to no faith-based values whatsoever, surely we can agree on love. We can agree on tolerance. We can agree on kindness.”

Difficult decision

Pastor Fraser’s comments, which received considerable applause from all corners of the room, were a uniting voice of reason in an evening that although never overtly disrespectful was nonetheless emotionally charged.

Lukaszuk said he had a difficult decision to make, one he doesn’t have to make. “I can let it slide,” he said. “Courts will make that decision for you. So we have an opportunity right now in this community. We have an opportunity right now as a community to make a decision for ourselves that will impact us least. We can make that decision where we can accommodate our neighbours. Those are not those people; those are your neighbours. Those are people whose kids are playing together on the same baseball [team]. ”

Although many comments were made to the minister Thursday night about what should be done, one from a Sturgeon County resident with children at Vanier particularly struck the minister as worthy of consideration. Under the suggestion, secular students would be bussed to Sturgeon School Division (SSD) schools outside Morinville, but SSD would be the resident division for those families, allowing Morinville secular parents to vote for SSD trustees. While the minister said it was worth looking at, he reiterated throughout the evening no decision had yet been made.

Lukaszuk said he wanted to hear from Catholic school parents before making that final decision because they were the most affected in the matter. He reiterated his belief that a local solution was the best solution and said he wanted to make that decision with the community; otherwise the decision would be made for the community without having input into the outcome. “This matter will be decided in the courts and you won’t have a judge coming before you in a town hall meeting like this,” Lukaszuk said, noting it could take up to three years to plan and build a new school. “In the meantime that decision will be made for us, and I don’t want that to happen to you.”

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18 Comments

  1. Omar’s comments sure paints a peaceful, almost utopian, picture doesn’t it? Keep dreaming world peace, pass out flowers, kiss everyone you see, rainbows, butterflies, bunnies….
    Dream on.
    There are major differences between the 3 religions you mention there Omar. Do some research on that and you’ll see why there’s so much striff in the world. That’s for another debate. The debate in this article is whether or not to take one of the elementary schools that’s already bursting at the seams, with 90 – 110% capacity, and replace those students with 100 or so and leave it to a seperate school devision to figure out what to do with the other 350 + students. That’s simple math, and math knows no religion. To do so, and advocate for such, can only stem from a hatred of all things religious. That is the polarization going on in Morinville. Nobody I’ve spoken to would be opposed to a secular school being built. This is hatred for religion dressed as the right to vote for trustees. There’s not much grey in that picture, is it?

  2. @Harvey-I’ll just have you know, that I have heard that there are more than 300 students registered for the public school in September. How do you know that some of these students at Vanier will not still stay at the school? Maybe even some of the students who now attend Notre Dame, will be switching to public. I myself will be keeping my son in Vanier no matter what happens to that school. It is close to my house and he is familiar with that school. The numbers are going to decide what happens, not you. Most of the parents that I know, will be switching their kids to public school. I’m sorry if you will lose a school, but maybe the Catholic school board shouldn’t have ignored all of the human rights complaints for the last 2 years.

  3. Harvey, Where are you getting your numbers from? Here are the current enrolments and capacities of Morinville Schools. Capacity data is from GSACRD, enrolment data is from Alberta Education. This data does not include the 2 modulars currently attached to Vanier, which could be moved to Notre Dame if required.

    Vanier- Capacity-528. Enrolment-383 -72.5%
    ND- Capacity-368, Enrolment- 358- 97.3%
    Primeau- Capacity-608, Enrolment 375- 61.6%
    MCHS- Capacity-770, Enrolment 518- 67.3%

    Even if no one went the Public school,everyone could fit in the existing schools. It is my understanding that GSACRD’s superintendent also made this clear at the meeting.

  4. Ann – The numbers you speak of are far more complex than comparing Sturgeon and GSACRD based on “colour codes” presented by report cards from Alberta Education. The report cards do not represent the quality of education that currently exists in Sturgeon School Division. Don’t get me wrong – GSACRD has high marks on accountability measures and they deserve them. Any important consideration of comparison btwn jurisdictions is that of socioeconomics. On average, GSACRD families have a far higher socioeconomic standard than Sturgeon families. Anyone in sociology, psychology or education will tell you socioeconomics is an excellent predictor of achievement. The numbers behind the different colours represented on the report card also represent very small quantitative differences. I can tell you Sturgeon, like GSACRD, has an excellent reputation for supporting the needs of all children.

    Micheal – I believe many people do not have a good understanding of secularism. When people use this term in general I believe most of the time they are referring to the absence of religion either holistically or from a denominational perspective. I agree that secularism can be classified as a religion. Religion in my view is defined as the prescription to a series of beliefs. If this is the case, then there is no public school option available in Alberta that is fully removed from the definition. I don’t think anyone is trying to create an “ideal” system that is fundamentally secular in nature. Having been a teacher and counsellor in the public system, I can tell you that we teach beliefs and values to our students every day. Some of these values include honesty, respect, persistence, dignity and empathy just to name a few. Call them religious values if you must; I call them being a good human being.

  5. Everyone keeps throwing numbers out there to prove a point, for one side or the other. Frankly I’m tired of it. Unless the number you are tossing out is based on ACTUAL numbers from the school boards or the government they mean nothing. The secular option is going to happen. We can all accept that and deal with it. While I am all for GSACRD and keeping them, I’m willing to respect others choice to go to the secular school system (or whatever you want to call it). At this point I would just prefer that as few students, as in our children, as possible have disruptions thrown at them. Stop throwing numbers out there to make your point unless you can back them up. It’s time to have some intelligent and realistic conversation about this, and that’s not possible without REAL numbers.

  6. @Christian, as I said these numbers are from GSACRD (off their website) and Alberta Education (from their website) you are free to verify them.

  7. First off, Mr. Thomas Kirsop, I rode the bus for 45 minutes each way every school day from k to 9 and then 30 minutes each way for grade 10 until I got my first vehicle. It is not a big deal and certainly did not ruin my life, it was part of being in a rural area. You seem to have the same mind set of most young people these days, in that I want this and I want it now so someone should give me what I want when I want it. Heaven forbid your child could be going on a bus down a hwy. I’m sure you never drive to St. Albert on hwy 2, you most likely take gravel roads like the rest of us.

    Secondly, Mr. Omar Saleh, I am pretty sure Landrex (only one of many developers in the area)is not going to stop building new infrastructure and housing lots because of this situation. Please dont waste peoples time with outrageous statements that are have no chance of coming to fruition.

    Last of all to all of the I cant wait people that need to force this issue through. Have you ever thought of how many lives are possibly going to be affected financially if teachers and support staff end up getting displaced and/or losing positions? I’m sure you don’t care about other peoples livelyhood as long as your child doesnt have to ride on a bus. But to each thier own. And by the way I am certainly not Catholic or religous for anyone wondering. But I do and will continue to send my children to GSACRD schools in morinville no matter what happens and I think there is quite a few more people that will do the same. I think a lot of people dont realize why I would do this if I am not catholic. It is very simple, people will send their children to GSACRD because of the Teachers and Staff at their schools. Lots of parents grew up here, have had their first and second child and are on their third or more going through the system and its the people they like not whether the school is faith based or secular.

  8. I didn’t move to a rural area. I moved to a town of 8000 with 4 school buildings. 2 of them elementary schools.

    Your argument is invalid. As it always has been.

    Regards;

    Thomas Kirsop

  9. Build a new school now, no matter what the decision will be. That’s what we should be fighting for. This town is growing faster than the average town in Alberta and we’re running out of room. It doen’t take a whole lot of foresight to see where we’ll be in three years, which is how long it takes to build.

  10. Trevor Love – Honestly my comment wasn’t aimed at you. It was more aimed at people who throw numbers out there, like the 300 Nik threw out, that are based on rumor or guesses. If someone throws a hypothetical situation into the mix or someone such as yourself throws factual numbers into the conversation it’s fine by me. It’s when people are tossing out numbers that cannot be verified or are claimed to be actual numbers that the issue gets cloudy. Let’s clear up the cloudiness and deal with what is real instead of what is emotional. The emotional is hurting the conversation and everyone from all sides is very emotional.

    Mr. Kirsop – While Tony’s argument isn’t entirely on point in the fact that we don’t strictly live in a rural area (rural town though), he does have a point about the bussing. I myself took a bus to school for my first 9 years. The trip was usually as long as 20 – 30 minutes. I was never seriously harmed by this. I can’t honestly say I remember the ride during kindergarten but I recall what most years were like. For myself, the bus ride was a time to talk to my friends and/or reflect on my day. I can understand your desire to not have any kids bussed out of town. At this point, the only criteria I care about from the Minister’s list is the last. What can we do that will offer the least disruption to all involved?

  11. @Christian-your right I don’t have factual information to provide to you to validate my numbers. I received this information from someone who works for the Sturgeon School Division, whom I do believe to be honest. Regardless of “numbers”,this still is an emotional subject. We can debate and debate about this issue until we are blue in the face, the fact is I should NOT have to bus my child out of his community to get an education that is not permeated with religion. I don’t understand why you people don’t understand that it is a HUMAN RIGHT to not have religion shoved down your throat.

  12. Mr kirsop. You seem to have known there was 8000 people and 2 elementary schools. I’m sure you researched that they were both run by GSACRD and faith based prior to moving here.

    On a different note I know of many students who chose to go to sturgeon composite high school when they lived in morinville. This was their choice and it either involved them riding the bus or having their own transportation to and from school. It also worked the other way as many students chose to go to morinville high school when they were residents of sturgeon county which required them to provide their own transportation. In both cases these students chose to go to the other districts because they felt it was the best choice for them.

    Bryant-great point. I agree the main issue is a school needs to be built as the town is growing at a fast pace. I still do not believe it is ok to uproot existing children and shuffle students to different schools just to give a school to people that want it now. And the possibility of support staff and teachers possibly losing their jobs is still to much of a chance I would be willing to take instead of waiting until a facility is available. Possibly ruining people’s lives financially or having your child on a bus twice a day for a couple more years, seems like a tough choice.

  13. Trevor,

    My numbers were bang on.

    Obviously you read this news source. Did you happen to read the latest editorial from Stephen Defoe (March 21, titled “So Here We Are-Now What”). In case you didn’t here’s his numbers, and I paste: “Vanier is 84 per cent utilized and Notre Dame is 108 per cent utilized”.

    Don’t say “Well, if you factor in the special needs programs…” because you DO have to factor in the special needs programs. Special needs people are people too with rights and the whole bit.

    Well I wasn’t bang on, I was off 6% on Vanier and 2% on Notre Dame. So maybe you need to check your numbers there mister.

  14. Nik, if you reread my last comment in the part that was directed at Mr. Kirsop I think you’ll find I am NOT disagreeing with the fact you don’t want your kid in a faith-based education program. I have no issue with that decision you and others have made. My point was simply that I don’t want to hear numbers that have no basis. If in fact the 300 is a valid number I simply say okay. I still want the solution to offer as little disruption to the children as possible. End of story.

  15. So let me see if I have this right, the public parents have been fighting for 2 years to get something done. Again, I stress 2 years. Within that 2 years the Catholic school board has fought these parents every step of the way. Only now, because it is a human rights complaint are they being forced to do something. The Catholic school board had many opportunities to rectify this situation. I am so proud of these parents who stood their ground for what they believe in. I can only imagine the frustration, the ostracism and the pain these parents felt. For you to ask them to wait another 3 years is absolutely selfish. Just so your children can be comfortable until another school is built. Shame on all of you!!!!

  16. So let me see if I have this right, the catholic parents have been fighting for 2 years to retain the highest level of education for their children. Again, I stress 2 years. Within that 2 years the secular parents have fought GSACRD/SSD/Minister Hancock’s suggestions every step of the way. Only now, because it is a human rights complaint are they being (possibly) forced to give up their school. The secular parents had many opportunities to look at the big pictures and think of all the kids. I am so proud of these parents & school board who stood their ground for what they believe is best for the children. I can only imagine the frustration, the ostracism and the pain these parents & school board have felt. For you to ask them to give up their school and move a significant amount of students is absolutely selfish. Just so your children don’t have to ride a bus to school until a new one school is built. Shame on all of you!!!!

    It goes both ways, Nik.

  17. I think at 42 comments, 43 including this one, we can put this to a lock. Let’s all wait for the Minister of Education’s decision and proceed as a community from there.

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