Back to square one, secular parents say

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Promises of a non-faith-based school in Morinville this fall have fallen apart, parents choosing the option were told Monday afternoon. Sturgeon school Division (SSD), who were selected by Greater St. Albert Catholic School Regional (GSCRD) to offer the program in Morinville, met with parents Monday afternoon to tell them plans had hit a snag.

Marjorie Kirsop, one of the parents who have been fighting for secular education in Morinville since January of 2011 and who was present at Monday’s meeting, said she and other parents were told preschool and Kindergarten students would attend classes on the upper floor of the Morinville RC Parish Hall but students in Grades 1 – 4 would be bussed to Namao School or Camilla School.

The main reason for the change in plan is the cost of acquiring and delivering modular classrooms to Morinville “We were told it’s roughly $300,000 installed for a modular,” Kirsop said. “Half the cost is transportation. They don’t want to ship it all the way here only to have it moved because it’s just a temporary spot.”

But Kirsop said the real problem seems to be a lack of agreement on just who should pay for the modular facility for the non-faith-based school. “Alberta Education and GSACRD are butting heads because both parties think the other one should be responsible to provide it,” she said. “So right now it looks like there won’t be a school in September. It’s maddening because it seems like we’re just back to square one again.”

Kirsop said other vacant buildings in the community, including a vacant facility near the ball park, the former Field’s Department Store on 100 Street and vacant property near No Frills were all discussed but ultimately rejected by Alberta Education as either being too costly to renovate or unsuitable due to a lack of green space.

“The other option was to use one of the wings of one of the schools in town, and they [SSD] wanted six to eight classrooms,” Kirsop said. “They [GSACRD] offered one classroom and they can’t have one classroom for Grades 1 to 4.”
The lack of accommodations and the seemingly stalemated position on funding a modular unit has left the Morinville parents seeking a non-Catholic education for their children with a choice of bussing their children outside of Morinville or – as Kirsop says several of the delegation are considering – simply sending their children to the existing Catholic schools.

“It’s very disappointing because the Minister of Education said way back in June that we will have a secular option in Morinville,” Kirsop said. “Now it’s July 25 and we’re told, ‘No. there isn’t going to be.’”

Kirsop said despite the late decision on who would provide the secular option so close to the end of the school year, she believes something could have been in place by fall if the Ministry of Education and GSACRD were not at loggerheads over who should pay for the modular.

“Because it’s just a temporary spot, they don’t want to bring it up here and have it moved again,” she said, noting modulars exist already in the province that could be used. “They don’t want to ship it only to have it moved again. Now they are saying for 2012 they hope to have the modular in.”

But Kirsop said it could easily be argued in 2012 that the cost of transportation is prohibitive, leaving parents still bussing their children outside the community for the public education they are seeking.

“We really thought we were making progress,” she said. “The government acknowledged there should be something in town and we were told they’re bringing in another education partner. Great – somebody who actually wants to provide the education. They’re still wanting to. Their intentions haven’t changed but they need a facility, and that’s where the issue is.”

Numbers could drop

Kirsop said at last tally there were 55 Morinville children enrolled with the Sturgeon School Division program. “It’s soft numbers because we don’t have a school in place,” she said. “Many parents have said they would enrol their kid if they could actually see the school. We don’t even know where the land is and now we’re being told that, ‘No, there isn’t going to be one.’ Why would you enrol your child in a program when you don’t even know where it’s going to be? I just spoke to several parents who said, ‘You know what, maybe I’ll just put my kids back in GSACRD. At least I know there’s a school there.’”

The Morinville mom said it is inevitable that the current numbers enrolled with Sturgeon School Division will dwindle down with the latest news and the prospect of being faced with the choice of bussing. That was our sticking point,” she said. “We don’t want our kids going to a school out of the community. We should be educating our kids within the community, especially when there are four schools.”

It is a situation that has Kirsop considering moving outside Morinville, something Donna Hunter, her sister Carol Sparks and their families did earlier this summer. Hunter and Sparks, together with Kirsop, were the original parents who lobbied GSACRD for a secular option last January. After several months of what she saw as an uphill battle, and faced with the uncertainty of what education in Morinville would look like in September 2011, Hunter made the decision to move to Edmonton and enrol her children in a public school there.

In an e-mail interview with late Monday afternoon, Hunter said she felt lied to.

“The Alberta Government reneged on their promise to provide modulars as the option for infrastructure for the Morinville public school,” Hunter wrote, noting the stalemate between Alberta Education and GSACRD puts parents in a position of having no option. “There is no partnership here. GSACRD is providing no choice.”

Hunter said she believes Sturgeon School Division is left with no choice but to bus Morinville students to their existing schools. “Alberta Education and GSACRD set them up to fail,” Hunter said. “Unless something changes, Grades1 to 4 will have transportation provided at no cost to either Namao or Camilla, along with all other grade levels to Namao or Sturgeon Composite H.S.”

Hunter said she understands the educational services agreement has not been signed as GSACRD wants Sturgeon School Division to remove the clause requiring GSACRD to provide infrastructure.

“Alberta Ed is telling SSD that a three-year plan may include modulars in Morinville for September 2012,” Hunter said. “No agreement on paper, everything verbal, vague and empty.”

The former Morinville resident believes Sturgeon School Division was left with the unpleasant task of delivering the bad news. “Sturgeon School Division was the only one acting in good faith and Alberta Ed and GSACRD set them up to be the ones who will have to tell Morinville there will be no school,” Hunter said. “We’re back to January 2011. We are all to be bussed away. We are outcasts, second class citizens who are not important enough to have a resident public school or even a wing of a school. We have to acknowledge Catholic permeation or get out.”

Hunter said SSD is planning to notify all parents who have registered in the new school as to what SSD has been told by Alberta Education and then post a letter to the editor in the local newspapers. has learned that immediately following Monday’s meeting with the parent delegation, SSD and GSACRD were called to a meeting with Alberta Education. Details of that late afternoon meeting were not available by press deadline.

Editor’s Note: We will continue to bring information on this developing story and the position of GSACRD, SSD and Alberta Education as they are available for comment.

July 26 update

Secular school plans moving ahead, GSACRD and province say

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    Here’s an article that screamed to me the moment I read it. Note the definition of Alternate Program: “Alternate programs were defined as those that were based on a particular language, religion, culture, subject matter or teaching philosophy.”

    I’ll just cut to the chase: Why can GSACRD not offer a Catholic Non-Immersion program for these students and be done with it. The framework already exists to set up this solution. It doesn’t require any new buildings, and will cost only marginally more. Similar religious programs (LOGOS) exist in public schools already. And yet GSACRD has excluded this as an option from the beginning.

  2. I can’t believe the condescending tone of people from both sides of this debate. I don’t know how any of this is beneficial. My kids will be going to the school where the recieve the best education. Everything regilious will be explained to them at home. Anyways, isn’t this secular school coming in December? I think some people would complain if their icecream was too cold. I see words like “deplorable” and “travesty”. Please. Deplorable are the slums of Calcutta and what happened in Norway was a travesty. Stay focused. This school will come sometime soon, but in the meantime, can we all just get along and keep our perspective in line?

    • Well said, Bryant.

      I think we’ll just close this little string of commentary right here.

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  1. The hill just got steeper for secular schools in Morinville

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