Secular education coming to Morinville in September

GSACRD Superintendant David Keohane talks to media Thursday night.
By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – On the very day when 5,000 students, teachers and parents gathered in St. Albert for an outdoor Mass hosted by Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division (GSACRD) schools, Morinville parents who have been fighting for a non-faith-based education for their children finally got the results of a survey that showed just how many likeminded families there were in Morinville.

That information was revealed Thursday night during an information session held at Morinville Community High School, putting some concrete numbers to a debate that has divided the community in recent months and revealing Sturgeon School Division as the educational partner to provide secular education in Morinville.

The online and mail-in surveys went to the 1,161 families of Morinville’s approximately 1,700 students attending the community’s four Catholic public schools. The research company received 334 responses to the survey, a response rate of 28.8 per cent. Additionally, 1,514 residents were contacted by phone. Of that number 558 completed the phone survey, a response rate of 36.9 per cent. Both surveys sought to gauge the interest in secular education in the community.

Pivotal Research Inc., the company contracted to conduct the survey, estimates 272 Morinville students would enrol in a non-faith-based program in the community. That number is based on 106 of the 592 students directly identified in parent survey responses, the remainder based on the results of a random survey of the community. Pivotal’s research from the two survey forms shows 37 per cent of the community expressed support for another educational choice for Morinville that is non-faith-based. A pivotal spokesman said actual numbers could be based on factors not included in the survey – location of the school, programming and staff.

The data revealed that the minimum number of 106 represents a 6.2 per cent shift in enrolment from GSACRD to the secular program. Of that number 74 are elementary students, 18 junior high and the 12 high school students. When the community survey results are factored in, the survey company estimates 167 elementary students, 67 junior high students and 38 high school students would be possible numbers for secular education.

Because the survey cannot determine the views of the large percentage of parents who did not respond to the survey, actual percentages are likely to be higher than the 6.2 per cent identified in the parent survey. Pivotal estimates as much as 15. 9 per cent of current students would enrol at a non-faith-based school.

Six-month’s of debate

The lack of secular education first became an issue at an all-candidates forum held in Morinville last October during the municipal elections. Parent Donna Hunter, together with several other Morinville parents, formally asked GSACRD, who operate four public schools in Morinville, for a secular option last December. It was a request that was denied by the board in January because providing a secular education was not in their mandate as a Catholic school division. Instead, the board offered Hunter and her delegation seven options they could pursue, none of which met with the group’s approval.

Things remained at a relative standstill until late March when GSACRD’s board and the division’s superintendent met with Education Minister Dave Hancock in a closed-door meeting at the Alberta legislature. Following the meeting, the school division contracted Edmonton-based Pivotal Research Inc. to conduct an independent and impartial survey to gauge the interest in a non-faith-based education option. GSACRD also began the task of finding an educational partner to deliver a secular program for those who desired it for their children. While the division acknowledged their obligation to do so, they have maintained their position that they cannot be the ones to provide secular programing because of their Catholic mandate.

GSACRD board Chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull said since receiving the request for secular education in Morinville, the board has maintained educational choice was important and needed to be respected.

“Our faith tells us that support for our mandate should be freely chosen, and we have made our priority working with the Minister of Education to seek the legislative solution that would allow both electoral rights and program delivery associated with secular interests to take place,” she said, adding the best solution for the community and its spirit of cooperation and collaboration was to find a partner who could provide a quality education program that addressed secular interests. “In short, we continue to maintain that secular education is not the work of the Catholic school board.”

Partner selected

Thursday night’s meeting revealed Sturgeon School Division, whose offices are in Morinville, will be the education partner to provide the non-faith-based education for the community. Turnbull said GSACRD will enter into an educational services agreement with Sturgeon and maintain an arms-length approach, allowing the partner division to deliver their program.

“We greatly appreciate the spirit of cooperation and mutual respect that representatives from Sturgeon have demonstrated in our meetings over the past few days,” Turnbull said, adding she felt Sturgeon School Division would make its best efforts to provide education that meets parent choices.

Sturgeon School Division Board Chair Terry Jewell thanked GSACRD for giving the Town of Morinville and educational choice. Although unable to give a great deal of specifics as to what shape the non-faith-based program would take this fall, he did assure the community that the education would take place in Morinville, at least for elementary grades. The Ministry of Education was in Morinville Thursday looking at possible locations to house students. Two options presented during the info session were behind the Sturgeon School Division offices or on property near the Parish Hall. School facilities on those locations most likely being made of modular units.

The board chair said real numbers are needed as soon as possible and that an open house will be held at the Senior’s Rendez-Vous Centre June 14 to further elaborate on the non-faith-based program Sturgeon will offer. He encourages parents wishing the secular option to call the board office at 780-939-4341 to talk to Superintendent Michéle Dick.

“The first thing for us is to get further numbers on how many kids wish to partake in this program,” Jewell said. “It will be important for all families who wish to register for a non-faith-based program to get in touch with us as soon as possible. The sooner we know the number of students and what grades they are in, the sooner we can work with this community to establish the school and the breadth of programs we will offer.”

Jewell said the arrangement is the result of two locally-elected school boards being able to work together to provide a solution.

Parent delegation reacts

Donna Hunter, who lead the charge to bring secular education to Morinville said she was pleased Morinville parents who said no thank you to a fully-permeated Catholic education will have an option for their children this fall even though her own children will not be a part of that program. Faced with uncertainty about whether or not such a program would be in place, Hunter’s family, together with her sister’s family and their father have sold their Morinville homes and moved to Edmonton where they could be certain of enrolling their children in the kind of public education they have battled to bring to Morinville.

While pleased, Hunter was critical GSACRD waited so long to select its education partner.

“They’ve had all of two days, maybe three days’ notice,” she said, adding the Minister of Education is not accepting any of the survey numbers as firm, meaning there will be no reallocation of school space within Morinville, a situation resulting in portables being placed on available land. “Everything is going to be done between June 2 and September 1 because they were not given any permission to do anything earlier.”

Hunter said she believed the short time frame has put a large burden on Sturgeon School Division’s shoulders. “I can’t hold Sturgeon accountable for anything, no matter how it turns out,” Hunter said. “They can pull off something amazing because they are invested and want it to work.”

Of greater importance to Hunter and her delegation is the catch-22 situation whereby parents who opt for the non-faith-based option will be non-resident voters within Sturgeon School Division, thus becoming electorally disenfranchised.

Sturgeon School Division Superintendent Michelle Dick indicated Thursday night parents of children in the non-faith-based program would be able to form their own parent council. Board Chair Terry Jewell explained both boards and the Minister of Education are aware of the disenfranchisement issue and that it is part two of the puzzle that needs to be resolved on the road to providing a non-faith-based program to Morinville students.

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  1. Ramming these kids into portables away from the existing school and busing sounds like a costly and rather rude approach by those involved. The Morinville Catholic High School has more than enough resources available to it, to be extended to these students until proper infrastructure can be permanently constructed. The Morinville Community Cultural Centre, would be a much more logical situation, utilizing the “many meeting rooms” as makeshift classrooms while working out some sort of share costs agreements for the busing, school gym etc…just until a they find a permanent home.

    So lets see the Catholic School Board and the Town extend the hand of friendship to these children and their families. It would be the Christian thing to do.

  2. 106?!? possibly 272?!? out of 1700 kids?!? That’s 6.2% – 16% of the kids that are in Morinville schools right now. Parents are going put their kids in a modular school, while the second best schools in Alberta (educationally) sits right next door? Seriously? I think parents need to reconsider compromising their child’s education for the sake of no religion. If the tables were turned and there were religious parents in a secular school that wanted a faith based school who were sending their kids to an Atco trailer next to a top of the line” school, how would that benefit the children of those parents? Don’t let pride and spite dictate your child’s future, remember the lasting consequences of your decisions. Don’t give me the “my kid will thank me later” speech either.

  3. Too bad for those students that could have used this funding for special education.

  4. Everyone who is interested in an education which does not preach Catholicism all day everyday please come out and register you children on June 14. The more students we get registered the better the facility will be. Sturgeon Schools have world class programming and are accepting of children of every faith. Please check out their website They are hoping to have offer French immersion, they have fantastic programming for gifted and talented students, special needs, and more. Even if you are sitting on the fence it would be well worth you time to come to the Rendez-Vous Centre on June 14th to learn what this school has to offer.

    The survey was clearly framed to ask parents to choose between what they are comfortable with and some “mystery school” which may include bussing children out of town. Despite this the survey still showed that 272 would likely enrol. My guess is that once parents see the fantastic programming that Sturgeon can offer us (right here in Morinville) the numbers will be far greater.

  5. My school levy went up almost 30% this year and I never got a call or a survey…While I’m paying taxes that go into the GSACRD coffers, I can’t run for the Board as I’m not a practising Catholic. Does anyone else see something fundamentally wrong with that? I can pay but get no say. Taxation without representation was part of what started the American Revolution over 200 years ago. This action spearheaded by Donna Hunter is a battle that needed to be fought.

    As a person who has lived out of province, I can’t help but wonder how such a screwed up school system we have here in Morinville has managed to exist for this long.

    Why would a Public School Board have to be selected to provide non-secular education for a Catholic Board? This is asinine. In other provinces the school boards are not geographical, so you don’t run into problems such as this. When I tell my friends in Ontario about this issue, they shake their heads and ask how that could possibly happen. “Isn’t Public School the norm?” Not in Morinville.

    Rather than pat themselves on the back and say “Look what we achieved,” I hope the Alberta government reviews the flawed board structure that allowed such a situation to exist in the first place.

    While parents wanting a public (read non-secular) education have won an important battle, it should not have been required and is just a first step. You should not be disenfranchised to give your child a public education.

    Remember, in the rest of the country, public schools start the process, then separate (read non-public) schools follow.

    I hope a lot of children register for the non-secular option. I know my friends’ kids will.

    • To correct a common bit of misinformation, non Catholics are completely free to run for GSACRD’s board. Current board chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull is not of the Catholic faith, something she made quite freely known during her bid for re-election last fall.

  6. yeah!!! we get a school finally!!!We are only way far behind the rest of Canada and are now entering the 21st century!!!! Why do people care that much to slander others, especially those who claim to be so Catholic??? That is not Catholic or even Christian at all! Be kind to your neighbors, accept that everyone is different. If you like your kids going to the Catholic schools keep them there, no one is telling you otherwise!! Sturgeon will offer an amazing school for our kids and programs that GSACRD does not have. It will be special and ours!

    Please keep in mind that it was a survey NOT a census( look up the difference if needed)and that only 38% of Morinville participated because of that.

    The others faith’s in the community which make up 70% of Morinville now get a CHOICE!!!!! History has been made….a small step but still a step!!!!

    HOOORRAYYYYYYY!!!!!!!! Good job!!!!

  7. K.L. Your comments on special education students shows a lack of knowledge on education funding. Students have funding that is essentially “attached” to them. If students have an expressed need through psycho-educational assessment then the school may be provided additional funding through a “coding” process.

    Harvey H. While it would be nice to avoid portables the physical location of a classroom is only one consideration in achieving high quality education. The competitive environment that Morinville now has in its school system will only serve to elevate the quality of education in our community.

    This first step is the biggest leap to take and I am pleased with the progress thus far. It still concerns me that the impression here is that Sturgeon has been invited as a “guest” to Morinville. There is no doubt in my mind that the long term play is both divisions having jurisdiction over Morinville – Sturgeon as the Public board and GSACRD as the Separate board. The question remains whether GSACRD decides to initiate this move in our community or whether the minister will be required to step in.

  8. Tiny Tots Preschool is located in a single wide trailer, just across the street from SSD office in town. Their educational program is outstanding and the teachers are amazing.

    I have no doubt the SSD will also provide an excellent educational program, regardless of classrooms being in modulars. Look at the camps up in Fort McMurray. They have a workout room and a cafeteria and house thousands of workers and they are all modulars.

    I am glad my children can continue with their education in the town we reside in. This is a start. And as numbers increase, SSD will have an actual school in Morinville. One day, we will be resident of SSD.

    Thank you Donna Hunter and SSD for providing residents of Morinville an educational choice!

    SSD Info Session: June 14th 7pm @ the Seniors Rendez Vous Centre

  9. My three children will be registered in GSACRD schools come fall. I LOVE the schools in Morinville. The teachers are wonderful. My children are receiving an excellent education and I am proud of the job that they are doing. I am happy that everyone has a choice for the fall. School is almost over for the year and I am going to celebrate the education that my children have received. PS I am not a Catholic but I am a Christian.

  10. Many will take a wait and see position. Many just do not want to change at this time as their children are comfortable in their current school. Many only have a year or two left so do not want to move.

    In just a few years’ time, a SCHOOL will be required to accommodate all the students.

  11. What about everyone who is registering for this secular school for this fall, but has every intention of sending them to Namao or St.Albert?

  12. Harvey I don’t understand your question.

    Further, given that GSACRD has made it very clear that the four existing schools will operate as per norm next year, and you have made it pretty clear that you align with this stance, I wonder what your goal is in questioning the secular education system at all. If you plan to stay with GSACRD, what do you care?

    Children will register or not. Sturgeon will decide how much facility is needed, and it won’t impact your childs faith based education one iota.

    I guarantee a minimum of 2 kids this year and three for 2012/13


    Thomas Kirsop

  13. To the respondents – it seems like we are writing each other as I’m reading the same names across different posts under different, but similar topics.

    First – I am guilty of taking something that I read (most likely here, but that is my fault, not Stephen’s) and assumed it was fact. This just reminds me to check the facts in the future. I went through several of the GSACRD websites to confirm or deny, but no answer. Also, I do know the difference between a survey and a census. I am arguing that if you are going to use the taxpayers’ money, then you need a census of everyone who wants to participate, rather than a “statistcally significant” representation of town – as I believe the survey was called. I’m not happy that my $700 + school levy went to help pay for the survey, rather than go to a non-secular school.

    Second – I am very happy that a secular option is coming to Morinville, but unhappy that between the GSACRD and Sturgeon they couldn’t come to some sort of sharing arrangement so that students wouldn’t have to go into portables. Funny, in other provinces, Catholic schools would be starting small and growing as is outlined for the public non-secular school in Morinville, not the public having to start out small and grow. It is amazing how the tail has wagged the dog for so long in our small town…

    Third – Due to the way this has come about, I don’t believe that the Fall registration will be indicate of the true demand for non-secular education. In fact, it seems that if portables or some other piece-work system is implemented, who would want to move their kids? Who wants to separate their children who have been together since Grade 1 to go to a non-faith based school? Again, the fact that this has had to happen is amazing. But if I was the GSACRD, this is exactly how I would want things to play out. Don’t get me wrong, they are implementing a non-secular option, but I would argue that if the government was doing their job, it wouldn’t be GSACRD’s problem to deal with.

    Finally, I want to commend Donna Hunter’s group for their perseverance. Yes, they were essentially driven out of town for standing up to demand what should have been in place right from the start, but you can’t fault them for looking after their rights. I wouldn’t go so far as to name the school after her as another article mentions, but she should get special mention.

    Now if we all could have discussed all the articles face-to-face, I wonder if things would have come about a bit differently?

    Thanks for hearing me out.

  14. Thomas,

    I hear a lot about parents registering their kids in this secular school for this fall, but has every intention of having them go to a different school when the time comes, because the school will be built with modulars. My point is that if parents inflate the numbers on the 14th of June only to prove a point, then that’s wrong.”Lip service” would be the proper term. I can’t say that of you. Your stand is clear. If parents sign up for this school and end up sending their kids somewhere else, that’s hypocrisy, and that will effect everything.

  15. “My three children will be registered in GSACRD schools come fall. I LOVE the schools in Morinville. The teachers are wonderful. My children are receiving an excellent education and I am proud of the job that they are doing. I am happy that everyone has a choice for the fall. School is almost over for the year and I am going to celebrate the education that my children have received. PS I am not a Catholic but I am a Christian.”

    Lori, I could have written this – I agree wholeheartedly! Only difference is that I’m registering 4 kids – not 3! 🙂

    I also agree with Harvey that registrations in June may be inflated compared to actual attendance in September unfortunately.

  16. I agree, false commitments would be just as inapprpropriate as refusing to, or interfering with the process of informing the public that an option now exists and a proper information session is forthcoming.

    But then so is questioning parental competencies and values based on the construction method of a building as opposed to the quality of the instruction that goes on inside of it.

    I haven’t heard of anyone planning a false registration. If I do I will certainly set them straight. Similarly I would ask that if you see someone ripping down a poster for the information session on the 14th you remind them that secular education has no impact on someone planning to stay with GSACRD and they do nothing but make themselves and those they claim to support look bad by their actions.


    Thomas Kirsop

  17. A tough decision coming up for parents when they go to register their children. I hope that all the debate and discussion (not to mention dividing the town) will be worth it.

    I can hardly wait until all we have to complain about is the smell of dog food in the air.

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