Morinville secular option to be in place this fall

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Parents seeking a secular education for their children met with Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) board members Monday night for two-and-a-half hours to discuss and debate how the division will proceed with short-term plans to provide a non-religious education for their children. What is certain is that those seeking a secular education will get it, but GSACRD will not be providing it.

“It wouldn’t be us who would be providing the program, said Board Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull. “It will certainly be us who will be working hard to find partners who will provide that in our community.”

Also up in the air is whether the secular program will take place in Morinville or if bussing will remain an option. Either situation could prohibit Morinville parents from running for school board trustee. Turnbull said GSACRD’s short-term goal is to have a secular option in place for Sept. 1. “All these other things that we need to address as we move through this process would be more into the medium- and long-term solutions,” she said. “To run for trustee – that wouldn’t be an option until 2013.”

Turnbull said she felt Monday night’s meeting went well and that both sides had an opportunity to discuss where the division is at in terms of providing a secular option for students by the fall.

“I think we’re both on the same page there that that is the short-term goal,” Turnbull said, adding her board will be meeting with Sturgeon School Division next week to discuss the possibility of providing such a program and that they are also open to the possibility of other educational partners taking on that role. But just who those partners are, Turnbull was not prepared to say. “We are in the process of having some conversations” she said. “ We are not at this time really able to discuss who those people might be as they’re still trying to decide whether or not they’d be willing partners.”

What Turnbull was able to disclose is the fact GSACRD would be employing the services of Pivotal Research to conduct a survey of the parents of Morinville’s 1,700 students. Results from that survey are expected to be received by the end of May at which time Turnbull said the results would be shared with the community.

Turnbull explained every Morinville parent will receive a survey by mail that could be completed online or by mail. Additionally, Pivotal will follow the 1,700 parental surveys with a random phone survey of residents with a survey sample of not less than 400 people.

Just what questions will appear on the survey will be left up to Pivotal based on conversations had between the delegation and the board and what the two groups would like to see in terms of information. “Pivotal will be forming those questions,” Turnbull said. “That’s absolutely not for us to be part of.”

Parent delegation still concerned

Donna Hunter, spokesperson for the Morinville parent delegation, said her group was not pleased that Monday night’s meeting was their sole opportunity to provide input into the survey. “There’s no steering committee,” Hunter said, adding she is concerned that GSACRD will be the filter through which her group’s survey requests and ideas are presented to the survey contractor. Hunter said she felt since GSACRD will not be providing the secular education program, that it was important that the educational partner who would be providing the program be involved in the survey process. “Their input and full partnership on the survey is critical,” she said.

The delegation’s spokesperson said despite Minister of Education Dave Hancock meeting with GSACRD and making it clear to them what their responsibilities as a public board were, there is still disagreement between what the minister sees as GSACRD’s responsibility and what the division sees as its responsibility.

Additionally, the parent group are disappointed that it is still not clear whether or not the secular program they are seeking will be provided in Morinville. “They’re still talking about accessibility. They’re still talking about bussing.” Hunter said. “That is not acceptable.”

Hunter’s experience with the process of trying to get a secular education for her children has prompted Hunter and her family to sell their home in Morinville and make plans to move outside of Morinville where she can be assured her children will get the education she wants for them.

“We had to make a backup plan,” Hunter said, adding her home is sold and the family will be moving. “Here we are. It is April 12th and even though we have done the entire process, do I have someplace where I can register my children where I can get a secular education, where I’d be a resident? No. I don’t”

Hunter said she will continue as the parent delegation’s spokesperson and will continue to do what she can for her group’s cause. “If something is in place, I will look at it,” she said. “I will try and help with the process, but this has been emotionally brutal. Obviously this is very important to me. I have to protect my kids. If nobody is going to guarantee the law, I need to do it.”

Hunter said the entire process of dealing with GSACRD has been intimidating and that her group requested more transparency from the division through the survey process. Board Chair Turnbull said information about the survey would be on the GSACRD website by Tuesday evening.

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  1. Um I have a problem with the company only conducting a survey of the parents of Morinville’s 1,700 students. My kids arent in school yet but I better receive that survey! and what does it mean that Pivotal will follow it up with a random phone survey of residents? So only 1700 surverys are being sent out and only a random selection will be followed up with? Seriously is this a joke??

  2. I also think that I deserve to be part of the survey I have a young family that will be going to school in a few years. Do I not have the rights to have a say in my childs future education?

  3. This survey must be sent to every household in Morinville. We all need to have a say on how our school tax money is going to be spent.

  4. Anonymous – I agree that in your particular situation the survey plan is lacking. Unfortunately, there is no way of realistically catching parents with children not in school (Perhaps they haven’t been born yet – where to draw the line?). With this being said, I suppose speaking with your friends and neighbors with kids already in the system may also help you forward your point of view.

  5. wow – I am ashamed of Donna Hunter. She claims she has to move outside of Morinville where she can be assured her children will get the education she wants for them. Does she not realize that education is more than abc’s and 123’s? it’s about the lessons taught by a parent to a child. And by selling her home and moving let’s examine some of the lessons she is teaching her children, and these lessons will last longer than any education taught at any school.

    1. you can walk away from a project without finishing it,
    2. if the going gets tough, run away,
    3.don’t stand 100% for what you believe in, let the “bully” win.
    4. give up. when things get hard you don’t have to seek out solutions, give up.

    wow – sure glad I’m not her children because they are in for a rude awakening when they have to face the real world in a few years. And it’s sad that to think that she is letting a dying church denomination intimidate her. The ball is moving, people are talking about this issue. Things just don’t change overnight. Donna, you are not alone in this battle. But thanks for giving up on us!

    • Funny how those who hide in anonymity get to judge those who make their case publicly. If you want to be ashamed of somebody, start with a community that was not able to see beyond ideological and theological differences to work towards a solution for the greater good of all concerned for fear that to give someone something new would mean to lose something familiar.

  6. Yes, if this survey is not provided to EVERY resident children or not then it is not accurate. What about all the families outside of Morinville in the county that go to the schools? Why doesn’t the Minister actually do his job and designate these schools as “actually public”. Then if parents that REALLY want Catholic education can bus THEIR children OUT of the community and let them lose their rights & drive all over to pick up their kids after volleyball etc.!St. AB perhaps! I’m willing to bet there will suddenly be a huge DECREASE in the demand for Catholic education in town. BTW, why hasn’t anyone even discussed the families in Legal-same problem there! If they setup a non-secular option in Morinville they are SEPARATING children based on religion. AB Ed. is moving towards inclusion & not segregation for children with special needs but apparently it is okay to have “special religious” needs & still segregate. This is ludicrous, this is Canada. I have a strong military history in my family & I can’t believe that I have family members that fight for other countries yet our basic rights are optional. Only 4 provinces still provide Catholic schooliing-time to change! As well, if I had kids in high school I’d lose it if they were not attending MCHS but a less technologically advanced school because they don’t want Catholic education. We pay tax dollars & our children should have every advantage as others regardless of religious status. BTW, the elementary children don’t get to opt out of religious Celebrations & all that it entails. How many instructional minutes are there here-lots! Boy if GSACRD was Mormon or Muslim we all know full well this situation would not be dragging out!

  7. I am ashamed of those who are bitching about the non-secular option. From what I have read, the individual responsible for pursuing this is not a native Morinville resident. So I ask you, what gives you the right to move into town and demand other services? You are a responsible adult who was knowing you were planning to raise a family, or already were, and you don’t check out the school district before settling? If you had investigated prior and you didn’t like the schooling option then why did you move here? There are plenty of options to live near Sturgeon School District or other communities who have secular education.

    It is my understanding that GSACRD has been an institution in Morinville for a few decades. From what I have seen, and have interacted with in the community the GSACRD does a pretty good job at raising young, responsible, educated persons. I am a young mom of three children, who is not a native Morinville citizen, and when we moved 4 years ago from BC, with 1 child, we were informed about the type of education our children would be receiving. You see as a responsible parent, you look into this type of matter prior to settling your family in a new community (and if you don’t like it, don’t settle here). My husband and I are far from being catholic, and we do not feel that we will be comprising our beliefs or our child’s right to an education by providing them school with the GSARD. After long conversation with the the Religion Director for the GSACRD, we determined that the the “Choices” (non-catholic) education, that GSACRD can provide is very sufficient at meeting the needs of secular education for those family who so desire it.

    It is inappropriate and shameful to watch a group of parents who should of been responsible enough to be fully informed of the type of school district that was here long before they even choose to settle in this community. I as a tax payer and citizen of Morinville I do not appreciate the slander towards an great educational institution with in this community.

  8. Why doesn’t a non-religious school board (Namao or St. Albert Protestant) put a school in Morinville if there is such a demand? It is not GSACRD problem that they have schools in Morinville. What would you expect GSACRD to do; get up and leave? Not realistic.

  9. Tim to YoungMom: Reference your comment “I ask you, what gives you the right to move into town and demand other services?” Sorry but I got to jump in on this comment, the right that gives her the option to ask for something different is FREEDOM, a right all Canadians enjoy, a right to speak ones mind without fear of persecution. And the last I checked Morinville Alberta was still in Canada.

  10. Donna,

    I am so sorry that you feel you have been pushed out of the community by the pressure of this fight. I was surprised when I moved into this area 12 years ago to find that “Public” education was really Catholic education. My husband great up here, but I grew up in a truly Public school system. This is not the norm for anywhere else in Canada; who would have thought to have to check. I applaud you for taking on something that I have long grumbled about, but have done little about.

    Government and large organizations are the slowest to move; I do not think things will change over night. But Donna you are making progress! Everyone is watching and wanting a solution that bring this area on par with the rest of Canada. Now is a great time to make Public education truly Public. It takes people like you to make it happen. The change has to come at the provincial level. Why would a Catholic school board provide a secular option? Would this not be considered suicide. The provincial gov’t has to step in and make Public Education available in Morinville and Legal. It is their responsibility. They are the governing body for education.

    In Legal there are two school boards and both are Catholic. My kids are no longer with GSCRD as they are with the Francophone board which is even more devote Catholic. We just recently requested that our children not participant in Catholic rituals and religion classes as we feel it implies acceptance, understanding, and belief in what the rituals and religion symbolize. We realize that by pulling our children from religion we are drawing negative attention to our kids. Our school does not have any other options for them so they sit in a teacher’s office during this class – I hope they are at least getting more time for their class work.

    You have taken on a fight that is enormous. You are a brave woman. There are some really nasty comments on here that define the brutality that you and your family must be constantly facing. Our family stands behind you. Your voice is being heard. Donna we are proud of you. You are making a difference. It might not come right away, but you have set the wheels in motion.

  11. I have spoken with a few people and have been following the debate each day to see what is written. However, some people still don’t get it – as taxpayers, we are entitled to have as a minimum a public school in town. Not a Catholic or faith-based school, a public school. No bussing, no other arrangements, etc, need be made for public students unless the town isn’t big enough to have the public school of the appropriate grade (elementary, middle, high).

    As for sending a survey only to parents, who came up with that idea as being a fair means to judge what the town thinks? To paraphrase an old African proverb “It takes an entire village to teach a child.” A survey to parents only is simply unacceptable. Do you know who we can send our concerns to?

    Someone told me that parents should have done their research on the schools available in town before moving here. As much as I respect their opinion, I think they are wrong. Once again, almost everywhere else in Canada (Legal being the other exception) public, non-secular schools are the default and everything else, including Catholic, Pentacostal, Christian, and other schools are are part of the Separate school board. No research required in the rest of Canada, so why should you have to do it here?

    Donna Hunter (I will say here that I have never met her, but would like to) has been under incredible pressure for challenging the status quo. While the perception is bad, the spotlight she has had to live in is not very comfortable, so I can’t blame her for moving. In fact, I’m impressed that it has taken this long. As for the writer above, it is easy to be ashamed when you are anonymous. Walk a mile in Donna’s shoes and I’m sure the pressure might make you think about moving, too.

    Finally, Young Mom’s comments make me wonder if we are still stuck in the 1950s. The reason being that people used to be able to smoke at their desk at work, but someone finally challenged the status quo in the 1980s so that we could have a healthier work environment. Given how few non-smokers there were at that time, it took a lot of guts to do it. Less than 20 years ago homosexuals were deemed a security risk and hunted mercilessly and kicked out of military, RCMP and government jobs. Again, it took a few brave people to stand-up to the status quo. I’m not gay and I don’t smoke, but I’m glad they did. Remember, Young Mom, questioning is not slandering. You will learn that when your child grows up and starts asking difficult questions. You don’t have to be native to a town to want what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms promises. In fact, that is why such a charter was drafted in the first place.

  12. The survey will NOT be sent to all Morinville parents. Only those with children currently in GSACRD schools in Morinvlle will receive the survey.

    If your children are currently attending a Sturgeon school or any other schools other than GSACRD, you’re only chance to be included in the survey is to be one of those who will receive a telephone survey.

    The survey will not include every single household in Morinvlle. The reasons given: Cost would be too high, and that the results from the sample survey would be similar to that of a survey that includes every household.

    What many people don’t realize is that:

    Education has two publicly funded School Divisions:

    1) Separate Schools of either Catholic or Protestant
    2) Public Schools

    Edmonton Catholic Schools are Separate Schools
    Sturgeon School Division are Public Schools
    Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools (GSACRD) are PUBLICLY funded PUBLIC Schools.

    Sturgeon School Division cannot just come into Morinville and put in a school. Morinville is under the jurisdiction of GSARCD, they are our public school division. Sturgeon School Division could offer an ALTERNATIVE secular program. But we will still be residents of GSACRD.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with transporation. If it were, this issue would have been resolved on January 17, 2011. This is about residents having the right to a public education without religious permeation from our public school division.

    A Member of the parent group said there is really is only one question that needs to be asked:

    Do you want a fully Catholic permeated education?

    If yes, there is a process to follow to create a separate school in Morinville.

    If no, then you send your kids to a public school in Morinville.

  13. If this isn’t GSACRD’s problem, why are they doing the survey? Is there another party who is more responsible for putting it out there; Alberta Education Ministry, GOV of Alberta?

    They’ve implemented an inclusive education system, apparently started in 2008. There is nothing inclusive about Morinville’s situation with the schooling. Write to your Education Minister’s office. The more squeaky wheels they hear, the more they have to respond to your requests, the more light shed on the circumstance. Give a few minutes, ask for what is rightfully your children’s; rights to a fair education without forceful religious permeation. Ask for what is rightfully yours, the right to direct your taxes towards a public system and not into GSACRD’s expectant open hands.

    I diagnose much of the issues in Morinville as a bad case of growing pains, which is to be expected. The growth will continue, you can only hope it will go in a pleasant direction. All the movements on this particular situation are small but they are steps forward none the less…Change will come in time; assistance from citizens is essential to that pace and its shape.

  14. To the “anonymous” ashamed of Miss Hunter;

    Miss Hunter has met with derision and accusation since this issue started. If I read your tone right, you feel she was representing your interests and are upset she is leaving. If that is the case then YOU put YOUR name out there and stand up and be counted. This town lost a dedicated volunteer and active member of the community with the loss of Donna Hunter. Which one of you wants to step up to take her place? Her volunteer positions in the community, the seat she filled to watch most if not all of the town council meetings.

    A mom standing for her legal rights and the legal rights of her children was shunned and shamed to the point she felt the needed to seek residence elsewhere.

    There is certainly shame to be doled out, however Miss Hunter is not deserving of that shame. I would point you to recalitrant school boards, political and societal cowardice, and those who behave in a bigoted manner because they feel their thus far “special status and privilege” is more important than the status of every other resident in the eyes of law and observance of human rights.

    I would in fact be so bold as to point you, anonymous, to a mirror.


    Thomas Kirsop

  15. To all the cowards hiding behind “anonymous” here, hating on what Donna has done, get a life.

    She’s tried hard to make sure her children get what she wants them to have, standing up against the establishment and challenging something that no one else had the guts to do.

    I work and live in Morinville. It’s convenient for my family to live here. Considering every other place in Canada has a public option for schooling, it didn’t even cross my mind that I’d be moving into a Catholic-only school district.

    Really, all this pubish-back against a public-school option just makes this town look redneck and bigoted.

    So good for her for fighting this. I want to thank her for her efforts and wish her the best in the future.

  16. YoungMom: You ask “what gives you the right to move into town and demand other services” It’s called, The Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms” Google it… it gives us all the right to follow the democratic process to effect change in our free country if there is will and need. Also, can anyone define what defines a “Native Morinville Resident” Does a resident of 10 years have more right to speak than someone with one year? Is that your point?
    Congratulations on doing some research and realizing that Morinville is an anomaly in forcing Catholic Ideology on students, and I am glad you are OK with that. You see as a Resident you are 1 vote… The other 1699 will have their say and we’ll see where we end up. That’s how democracy works; don’t be ashamed, be informed.

  17. I for one would like to applaud Donna Hunters courage and tenacity. I can’t imagine that it would be easy to speak out about an issue such as this. She has done a marvelous job not only educating the public on the matter, but fighting for what she believes is right. This process has no doubt been a very draining one, and she has continued to matain her courage and professionalism. She obviously cares a great deal about her childrens education, and it is my opinion that the world could use a few more Donna Hunters.

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