By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A meeting between the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) board and Education Minister Dave Hancock failed to produce the concrete results some Morinville parents were looking for in their quest for a secular education for their children. Hancock met with GSACRD Superintendent David Keohane, Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull and other GSACRD trustees Wednesday afternoon at the Alberta Legislature to discuss the issue.
“We’re looking at ways that we might address this,” said GSACRD Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull after the meeting. “We did look at the original seven options as well as some others, and we were just looking at how we might go forward in the future with some short, medium and long-term goals.”
The seven options presented to the delegation of Morinville parents in January were appealed by the group soon after. But just what the additional options discussed with Minister Hancock are, Turnbull was not prepared to divulge to media, at least not until they have crossed the board table. “I can’t discuss that until I’ve met with my board and we can make a decision as a board,” she said. “I don’t do any of that until I’ve spoken with my board.”
Turnbull anticipates that discussion will likely take place sometime in April, prior to which she plans to meet with Donna Hunter, spokesperson for the delegation of parents.
Although noncommittal on what options were discussed or specifically when or if the parent group will get what it is seeking, Turnbull said she felt progress was made in the meeting with Minister Hancock. “I think there’s always progress when you have those people in the room,” she said. There was many people in that room today. We did discuss some of the options we as a board have been looking at. The Minister spoke to us as to what he would like to see happen as we go forward. Until we sit down with the Hunter delegation and have a conversation there, and we sit down as a board; we won’t really have any go forward ideas until probably next month.”
Education Minister Dave Hancock said in the fullness of the discussions Wednesday afternoon he and the board talked about a number of options that could be done, but he was going to leave the final outcome to the parents’ delegation and GSACRD to work out. “I didn’t take it as my roll to whittle their list down,” the minister said of GSACRD’s options. “I think they need to deal with their constituents in terms of what will be a satisfactory approach to providing education in the community. I think that needs to be a real discussion with the people involved. It’s not really in my hand to mandate that, but I think it was in my hand to talk with the board about what those responsibilities and options are.”
The Minister said he would not speculate on how many students seeking a non-faith based education would be required to warrant a school, stating the issue was not about people.
“This isn’t about a building; this is about people,” Hancock said. “It’s about rights and it’s about – first of all – everybody coming together to put their children first and to understand how we can get each child the type of education program they need.” For Hancock there is confidence that can be worked out between the board and the parents seeking secular education. “We’ve got elected officials in the area who have an obligation to work with their communities, and they’re willing and able to do that,” Hancock said. “I need to leave it up to them now to do that.”
For Donna Hunter, who has been fighting for what she believes is her and her family’s right to a secular education; there is doubt as to just how feasible that is. Still, she maintains hope a resolution can be found.
“I have to be hopeful,” Hunter said, adding she will meet with the board to see what they have to say. “I’ve been keeping my expectations pretty low. Every time I put myself out there, it comes back just like this. ‘Be patient. We’ll get back to you. It’ll resolve itself eventually. Something will come of it.’ It never has.”
The mother of three said she was surprised to be going back to meet with the board because she and her delegation made an official appeal to the Minister of Education after GSACRD presented her group with seven options, none of which were acceptable to the parent group.
“The board said no, and they said no emphatically,” Hunter said of the options and alternatives GSACRD presented her with in January. “No, there will not be a secular education program at any of our division schools in Morinville. So, what am I supposed to say when I meet with the board again?”
Hunter said she was disappointed in the Minister’s leaving the matter in the board’s hands because she appealed directly to him as she felt he was the one who needs to say that GSACRD’s decision and options cannot stand in a public school system.
“I’m disappointed,” she said. “Secular education at a public school should be a given, and it’s not. So, I’m disappointed. I’m extremely disappointed that it’s more of the same.”
GSACRD’s next board meeting is Apr. 18. Chair Turnbull said she did not know at this time if the matter will be discussed further at that meeting.
Board Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull takes media questions.
Minister of Education Dave Hancock takes media questions.