Secular option not among board offerings

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – A group of Morinville parents did not get the answers they were hoping for Monday night after waiting more than a month for the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) board to respond to their request for a non faith-based option for their children attending Morinville’s Catholic public schools.

GSACRD trustees voted unanimously on administration’s recommendation that: “the Board of Trustees not support the request that Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools provide a fully secular, non-faith based education for the children of those supporting the December 13 Delegation.”

The board also voted unanimously to send Donna Hunter, spokesperson for the delegation, a letter outlining the decision and a list of five independent and two administratively-assisted options the group could pursue to achieve their goals of a non-faith based education for their children.

It was a decision that has left Donna Hunter and her group disappointed but not surprised.

“It’s disappointing because this is exactly what we were told the first day I came to them,” Hunter said after Monday night’s meeting, adding she felt she and her group were put through a song and dance of presenting to the board and waiting for their decision. “All the news people were saying they’re not telling us what they’re doing – it’s a big reveal. For them to come back and tell me basically the same thing they told me on day one: We’re Catholic. We are who we are. We’re not going to be anything else. Exempt your child using Section 50 [of the Alberta School Act]. Go somewhere else. There’s no surprises here.”

St. Albert ward trustee Dave Caron, in moving the recommendation, reiterated comments he made after the Dec. 13 presentation by Hunter and her delegation.

“We have to recognize the reality of our two smaller wards – being Morinville and Legal,” Caron said. “In those two communities, the form of Catholic education we offer, in my opinion, is really about accessibility and invitation. That’s the nature of the form of Catholic education we offer there. However, Catholic schools by their very nature permeate the Catholic tradition we aspire to. That’s why you see crucifixes in the buildings. That’s why the December concert isn’t a seasonal concert. It isn’t a holiday concert. It’s a Christmas concert. So while I respect Mrs. Hunter’s right to request a secular school, I know our division really can’t be something that we’re not. We are a Catholic school division, so another alternative must be pursued.”

Alternatives suggested by the board include forming a separate school, establishing a private school, approaching a secular public school to provide a program in Morinville, educating the children through distance learning or privately transporting their children outside the division. Additionally, the board presented two options which could be achieved through GSACRD administrative assistance. One option would be for GSACRD to enter into a transportation agreement with another school division that would bus students wishing a secular education outside the division. The second would be to use existing legislation – Section 50(2) of the Alberta School Act and section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act to exclude the students from religion classes. However, the suggestion comes with the understanding that “the purpose of a Catholic education is to permeate Catholic faith, philosophy, theology and doctrine in all aspects of the education in the school.”

Hunter said in looking over the seven options, the transportation option might work for some families, but is one she is not overly pleased with herself. “I’m not thrilled about the idea of transporting, even if the convenience and the cost is there because if I’m a non-resident of another school board I don’t get to run as the trustee. I don’t get to vote for trustee. I give up democratic rights that I should be entitled to.”

Although displeased with the board offerings, Hunter said she and her group which has expanded to a core of seven parents since the Dec. 13 meeting would review and discuss the list of options the board provided Monday night. “I’m going to go through them point by point and we’ll talk about them, and obviously we’ll pursue what we can because we still feel we’re entitled to a non faith-based public school education,” she said.

Superintendent Keohane said he felt the options presented to Hunter by the board were fair, given the request as presented was to provide something that was not in the division’s scope and would require inordinate resource to accomplish any other way.

“In the interest of making sure we resource things well we want to be fair to both Ms. Hunter and fair to the beyond critical mass – the rest of the ratepayers – who have said, by virtue of how they support our schools, and, as our board chair has said, fill out their satisfaction surveys, ‘What you’ve got going is a good thing, please continue.’”

It is a position shared by board chair and Morinville ward trustee Lauri-Ann Turnbull, who explained for many years Morinville schools have recognized the diversity of the student population. “We’ve had parents of many different faiths and of non-faith who have come to our schools who we’ve been able to accommodate within the walls of our schools,” Turnbull said. “They’ve been quite comfortable. I think that we always try to accommodate as best as we can within our own mission, vision and values of our division.”

Proposed changes to Education Act could affect options further
Hunter and her group are concerned that if recommendations made by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association (ACSTA) to the minister of education as part of stakeholder presentations on the soon-to-be revised Education Act are permitted, Morinville students and parents will have even less options than they do now.

ACTSA has recommended that Section 50(2) of the existing School Act, which allows parents to exclude their children from religious instruction or exercises, should not apply to Catholic separate and Catholic public schools. The organization is also recommending an added clause to the Alberta Human Rights Act which would provide an exemption for Catholic public and Catholic separate schools. Hunter argues the removal of the provisions would permanently eliminate Morinville parents’ rights to not have their children participate in religious instruction, regardless of faith.

Additionally, Hunter and her group are concerned that another ACTSA recommendation that seeks to extend faith requirements to serve on separate school councils be extended to include Catholic public schools. Hunter said if the ACTSA recommendation that only practitioners of the Catholic faith would be permitted to serve on school councils, 70 per cent of Morinville parents would be excluded from being able to serve.

“The recommendations say that boards will now have the ability in a Catholic public school to deny parents membership in school council,” Hunter said. “How is that possible?”

Hunter has taken her concerns over the ACSTA’s submission to the minister of education because she believes, if approved, the recommendations could have a lasting effect on Morinville students and their families.

“The more research I do, the more I find out, the more I’m terrified that this really is just the way it is and I don’t have a right to send my kids to public school; I have a right to send my kids to Catholic school because I live in Morinville.”

Human rights still an option

While the parents are committed to reviewing the board’s suggestions and continuing their goal of a non faith-based education for their children, elevating their concerns to a human rights issue may still be an option.

“I don’t like that I have to do that,” Hunter said. “I don’t even know if I want to do that. What a process to put my children through, to put me through. Is it easier just to move? Is that the message that we should be sending?”

Editor’s note: We welcome your comments on this story and the issue at hand. Please keep the comments and the debate respectful. No personal attacks. While we welcome a variety of opinion, please keep it civil.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Way to go to the GSACRD School Board! Not wavering in the face of 7 parents concern over a little prayer and the intent of teaching Christian values. I’m so happy that the Board can stand up for what they are and not feel the pressure to change something that’s been around for years. Maybe the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council could take a cue from our school board!

  2. It’s not the “Values” as such that are the issue, nor, is it the fact that there is “A little Prayer” in “A School”.

    The issue is that one specific faith permeates and dominates all of the PUBLIC sources of education in a town of 8000.

    Public schools should be open and accessible to all without prejudice, not “Open and accessible to all BUT your child will have to follow our doctrine.” That would fit the definition of a separate school division.

    If GSACRD is so certain of their statistical dominance of the local school age demographic, then perhaps the issue could be put to rest by a public accounting of the actual demographic. I fact I’d be very interested to see the statistical percentage of students enrolled in the “Options” programs in the elementary schools.

    As for 7 parents, well thats pretty good, it started out as 3, add me, thats 8. This is how all change is started.

    Get used to seeing my name.

    Thomas Kirsop

    Concerned Parent, Taxpayer, Member of the Public

  3. I am all for democracy and support human rights. I am, however, sick and tired of people thinking thier rights are more important that the rights of others.

    I see no reason why any one should be “terrified” about educating their children the way they choose in this country, province or region for that matter.

    For crying out loud – it is common sense to research a community before you CHOOSE to live there. It’s not like this school system has sprung up over night.

    I am not Catholic. My son attends a Catholic school and he is receiving a first rate education and I am not at all bothered that God is in the picture.

    Before parents get too adamant about removing God from the schools perhaps they should take a good look at our neighbours to the south and see how it’s affected the school systems there. Just sayin’

  4. I would have to say that I don’t mind the way how the schools are right now but however I am starting to get concerned.

    I do not think it is fair that if parents who are not of the Catholic faith will not be allowed to be on the school council and if my children do not want to take religion they should not have to take it. I know that this is not in effect right now but if this does change I think a lot of parents will be concerned.

    Also, I agree that people should research a place before moving there, but on the other hand most places that I know of all have public schools except Morinville so I am sure most people just assume that there is one in Morinville.

    It not the religion that is the problem it is the lack of choices availble in Morinville. To me that is what the issue is.

  5. I am impressed with GSACRD’s handling of Mrs. Hunter’s request. I like that they got it done in a month (which isn’t long to wait when you factor in Christmas and the obvious research, background and administrative work involved in providing Mrs. Hunter with not 2 but 7 options). I like that they did not tell the “news people” what they were doing before they told Mrs. Hunter. I like that they met the request head on at two public board meetings. I like that they voted unanimously as a unified board. I like that they are who they are.

    GSACRD is an interconnected family of schools with deep Catholic roots in Morinville, Legal and St. Albert. I think they have done a good job adapting to the shifting demographics over the years. But to ask them to also offer a secular program is like one of your kids asking you to set up a separate family option because they don’t want to be raised in a French, or German, or English etc. family culture.

    It would seem to me that Mrs. Hunter should really be knocking on Sturgeon School division’s (the logical choice) door to offer something in Morinville instead of trying to force GSACRD to set up a separate faithless program. Talk of human rights challenges is time-wasting silliness. Who’s really behind all this?

  6. My family moved to Morinville in 2007. I was shocked to find out that there was no non-faith public school. New to the area and not knowing a lot about Morinville it honestly never occurred to me that this would be the case. When we asked our realtor about the schools she told us there were two elementary schools, a junior high and a high school all within close proximity to our new house. At the time my daughter wasn’t old enough to attend school and I never gave school a second thought until I went to enroll her years later and found out that the only option we had was a Catholic option. I was shocked. Yes, we should have researched it before moving here. We regret that we did not because we never would have chosen Morinville as our home. We fully support Mrs Hunter, applaud her courage and will join with her to enact change. You can add us to the list. There are a lot more than 7 parents pushing for change. Times have changed and this issue is not going to just be swept under a rug and go away.

  7. The options outlined by the school division are ridiculous. Why should our kids have to drive by 4 public school in their own neighborhood to get the same secular education that every other Albertan enjoys and is entitled to under the Alberta School act and the Canadian charter of Human rights?

    Why should my daughter have to be brainwashed by Catholic doctrine every day?

    My daughter deserves better than this!

  8. Mrs Hunter isn’t trying to claim that her rights are any more important than those of others. Other people in Morinville and elsewhere are of course free to pursue their own faith-based education, and always should be. They have that right.

    But when we’re talking about *public* money being used to fund a *public* educational institution, there has to be some recognition that the public is not 100% catholic. Not all citizens pray, and those who do, do not necessarily pray to the same gods. Therefore, as long as the public school system is funded by the public, it has a duty to provide a secular education option.

    Or, we could just play it like the teabaggers do in the states, and simply declare that Canada is a “fundamentally christian” nation – forget everybody else, atheists and muslims and jews can all educate their own children, and we’ll just collect their tax money and give it to the catholic school board.

    Hmph. I mean, I can understand that in an tiny rural town, there may be some resistance to the thought of changing the status quo, but… what exactly are the logical arguments working against Mrs Hunter here? I’m not seeing any. In fact, it seems pretty simple to me:

    Option 1: Taxes are extracted from the citizens of Morinville and used to fund a catholic school system that is entirely geared for – catholics. People of other religions, and atheists in the area are still expected to pay for it regardless, and if they want a non-faith-based education, they should move elsewhere.

    Option 2: Taxes are extracted from the citizens of Morinville and used to fund a secular school system that is geared to accommodate all people, regardless of their religion. Everybody is expected to pay for it, and nobody is excluded from using it. Catholic schools would still be available for those who want them.

    Which one is fair here? Which one makes sense? Be honest. Don’t let your judgement be clouded by your own personal religious preferences…

  9. Thomas, add me and my wife also. That’s 10 concerned parents –
    and I’m Catholic so that should count as double – hahaha

    I can’t believe the ACTSA proposal. Holy smoke (no pun intended)

    GSACRD is taking things way too far. I walk into Notre Dame and I feel I have to genuflect. I figure that if I visit the school any time during the week, I can skip mass on Sunday.

    I can’t imagine how a young Hindu girl feels walking in the doors and BAM, there’s a big Crucifix staring her in the face!

    There’s only so much the Public can take.

    I know that I can’t swallow the entire Bible…

  10. I was out for three days before the weather hindered my efforts. I got a good amount of feedback, and a fair amount of support, from honks and thumbs ups, to people stopping to share their personal stories, to coffee (It’s a good thing there are public restrooms in that building).

    I have to go back to work tomorrow, but on my next set of days off perhaps the weather will be better and you will again see me on the sidewalk.

    Let me be clear; my walk is not anti-faith, I do not deny this town it’s longstanding and proud history, or its residents their freedom of religion. I walk for rule of law, and observance of human rights in a Public School.

    I walk because mothers are begging for public education in a Public School and I think that’s wrong. I walk because some parents currently transport their children to an adjoining district in good weather and bad because they feel poorly represented in a Public School and I think that is both wrong, and on some days dangerous. I walk because next September, my wife will be joining those parents.

    I walk for my children. That statement alone should demonstrate my resolve.

    Thomas Kirsop
    Concerned Parent, Taxpayer, and Member of the Public

  11. I think some people still have the point of view that the Catholic School Division was here first, so they should have the right to stay, and I think there are some concerned parents that think that their children will not be instilled with the Catholic values that they grew up with if they don’t go to a Catholic School.

    Firstly. The ethnic and religious dynamic in Canda has changed drastically since Canada became a country, and it will only continue to change. Alberta is only one of three provinces that still allows separate school divisions. Having a secular school system not only accomodates people of all races and religions, but it makes also makes sense financially for the province. As tax payers, paying taxes to support one school system only makes sense. It has become inefficient the way it is currently run.

    Secondly. You can look at countries like Turkey as an example, whom have offered a fully secular education for nearly 90 years, and yet the majority of the people in Turkey remain devote Muslims. A secular school system was one of the early reforms of Turkey that was meant to bring all of the people of the country together and break down predjudices between each other. Islam is not taught or even accomodated in school. If parents want their children to follow in their religion, then they have to take the time and take them to Mosque/Church/Temple, and this is probably something that has benifited families in the long run, as this gives them more time together as a family.

    Times have changed in Canada, and it’s only right to start accomadating children of every faith under one system. Not only will it satisfy the rights of everyone, and make more sense financially for the province, but it will also teach students an parents alike, tolerance.

Comments are closed.