Letter: Reader responds to Morinville parent’s letter

Regarding: Morinville parent writes letter to premier Redford (Morinville’s Monday Morning News, Dec. 12, 2011)

Ms. Buga expresses considerable dissatisfaction with the present arrangement for schooling provided by Sturgeon School Division which “does not come close to being an acceptable solution”. Really? In addition to countless hours of administrative and trustee time expended, thousands of dollars for consultant and legal fees, staff salaries and facility rentals, have already been spent for the benefit of very few students in an attempt to accommodate the demands of the parents for whom Ms Buga, one assumes, speaks. And much more of both time and money will be required if Ms. Buga’s further demand for a stand-alone school is to be met. The taxpayer may well be resentful and wonder if all of that effort and money might not have been spent to better effect in addressing the urgent educational needs of other students in already existing schools elsewhere in Alberta.

Further, she demands “access to a genuine public school without religious permeation in our community, with the right to vote for a genuine public board who will represent us.”

Our Alberta public schools are already genuine.

All the legislation governing public schools in Alberta, from the Northwest Territories Act of 1875 onward, provides for the formation of public school districts, Protestant or Catholic. There is no reference to secular schools. With time, the Protestant designation has been gradually dropped, although, until perhaps only a generation or two ago, many non-Catholic public schools retained the tradition of daily prayer and other occasional religious exercises as had all schools originally. And, as clearly authorized by the School Act, these practices continue in some non-Catholic public schools today.

As to the right to vote, as a resident of a public board where there is no separate board Ms. Buga already has that right.

The changes that Ms. Buga feels are her right may some day occur, but it won’t be soon. In the meantime, if she is as thoroughly displeased with the schooling presently provided to her children as the tone of her letter suggests, she has choice. She can choose to drive or to avail herself of the transportation available through a yellow bus headed to a school which would provide her with much of what she wishes. Namao, Riviere Qui Barre, Bon Accord, St. Albert Protestant, all have excellent schools, none more than twenty minutes away. She can also choose to reconsider the Morinville schools. With a higher than 90% parent satisfaction rating in the latest parent survey, these schools must have a lot to offer, and with a little bit of tolerance and understanding on the part of the parent, might meet Ms Buga’s children’s educational needs surprisingly well. Or, a more likely choice, she can choose to stay with what is now in place and be content. In that event, if an apology and a thank-you to Sturgeon and Greater St. Albert Catholic administration, trustees and the taxpayer is too much to expect, at least an expression of gratitude for what is being provided would seem to be in order.

Therese Gervais
Sturgeon County

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  1. Nobody requested that Sturgeon schools get involved, nobody requested modulars, nobody requested that our precious education dollars be spent on censuses or sample surveys or facility rentals. This group of parents from the beginning have been asking for just one thing. That our resident Public School Board follow the law. The constitution of this province does not allow for permeation of religion in any school either public or separate. Religious instruction is to be limited the saying of the Lords prayer in the morning and 30 minutes of end of the day both of which must be optional. GSACRD is infusing religious instruction into every class. If you don’t believe me just read the registration forms, they don’t have any problem admitting it. Everything else that has happened since, modulars, the “partnership” with Sturgeon Schools, etc. has been because our School board along with the Dept. of Education are trying to avoid following the law. As far as the survey that you said had showed over 90% “satisfaction” with GSACRD. That was not a satisfaction survey at all. It was survey which essential asked parents “given the choice, would you rather keep you children where they are now, or would you like them to a school (to be determined) which may or may not include busing them out of town.” My suggestion to you is that you get used to the idea that Morinville has become a diverse community and will only continue to become more so.

  2. The NWT Act. A fine document. One worth studying further in fact.

    It also says Religious instruction shall be restricted to the lords prayer in the morning and one half hour programme at the end of the school day.

    Students may be excluded from such programming without prejudice and or repercussion.

    Forced acceptance of permiation and inundation of one, above and to the exclusion of all others in a public school has absolutely nothing to do with promoting tolerance. It has everything to with abuse of power and violation of law to push a faith based mandate upon those who are not of the faith.

    Popularity does not equate legal, ethical, or moral righteousness. Vastly popular percentages of a population can get behind morally or ethically questionable actions. All they need to do is suspend empathy and focus on personal gains and benefits.

    Encourage our school board to answer the CCLA’s TWO letters seeking clarification as per GSACRD’s legal clearance to operate in the manner they currently do. One would think the righteous would be very happy to do that. Very publicly.

    And quite frankly that’s about the only thing that’s going to end my continued participation in this whole debate.

    Regards, and Merry Christmas;

    Thomas Kirsop

  3. Just think… Last year at this time, the permeated parents were realising life in Catholic Schools was destructive for their children. Now, look how far you’ve come! You’re children are spending their days in makeshift classes and have probably made friend with the other kid in their grade. Soon enough, you’ll be seeing the grade 1/2/3/4 split will be in the portables at Vanier School (I saw them two days ago, SO EXCITING). Think about how fun it will be to bundle up in groups when it’s “peecess” and they all get to venture into the old, archaic “Catholic School” to use the facilities! The challenge to avoid the mysterious “Permeation” while borrowing some gym time will be such an adventure! Have fun being “diverse”!

  4. To Ms Gervais, I would have to say, are you kidding me? Thank the GSACRD for making it as difficult as possible to bring in a public school? Thank them for initiating a survey that wasted over $30,000 of scarce school funding to try and avoid bringing in a public school and maintain the Catholic status quo? I would ask yourself what would you do if you wanted Catholic education for your child and were told that you couldn’t bring it in, even though it is a right?

    Face it, this issue simply will not die until we have a public school in town. To my family and other people from outside Alberta who have followed this discussion, we look like uneducated clowns because we can’t quickly settle something as basic as public, non-religious education. It is a basic right that we don’t have to bus our kids to get. In fact, I would argue that in the rest of the country, those wishing Catholic, or any other education other than public, would have started their school by bussing their children. Everywhere else in the country, the first school to be built is, usually, public. Why is Morinville different? If we had only one school in town, there may be an argument. How we managed to build four schools with none of them being designated public is amazing and incredibly discriminatory.

    I am a very resentful taxpayer because my basic right to a public school is not being met and my tax dollars are going to support Catholic schools that I am opposed to supporting. You can waste all the money you want creating surveys about satisfaction, registration, what religion we are, etc, but none of them will eliminate the basic right to a public school.

    Do not equate a desire to have a non-Catholic school in town as unhappiness with those who teach in it. MCHS has done a great job despite the Catholic permeation and is a school to be proud of. However, I await the day when the only high school in town takes down the cross at the door and offers additional religious classes, rather than forcing students to opt out of them. Funny, but MCHS is the only Catholic school I know not named after a bishop, cardinal, or other religious figure. I would like to hear the story behind that one day.

    I would ask that people please accept the fact that at least a small part of Morinville wants a non-religious public school. Prepare yourselves for the day when one of the current schools is handed over to the public system. This is what happened to the public system in Stettler when they lobbied and received a Catholic school, so why should it work one way and not the other? How can people argue for one but deny the other?

    To end off, I want to be upfront and say that I’m not anti-Catholic, rather, I am decidedly against the lack of a public school. They can both exist in the same area, and in Ontario some public and Catholic high schools are on the same street as each other. If you see nothing wrong with the non-religious (let’s call them public) students being shunted from place to place and being treated as second class citizens, keep complaining and let’s see how long the non-public lobby can drag this thing out. The kids don’t deserve this treatment when public education is a right. It is shameful and an embarrassment to our town, county and province.

  5. Well said Trevor. I personally don’t believe that anyone who has their children enrolled in the Morinville Public School is ungrateful but rather wish to have better conditions for their children. This short term solution is rather disheartening for some. I also believe that the attendance numbers would be substantially higher if a school was either built or designated for those who choose to send their children to an inclusive, truly public school. The community has and is growing. The community has and will continue to change. People will always feel the need to resist and be afraid of change. Politics and religion will always be topics of argument. Truth be told, change is constant. Embrace it, its not all bad. Experience it, it will benefit everyone.

  6. It is not my experience that parents are ungrateful and displeased with SSD. Quite the opposite. Parents thank SSD, but an acceptable solution should have been to formally transfer public jurisdiction in Morinville to SSD as they are the only ones who will meet the obligation of a public school board. Parents did not demand a stand-alone school, that was GSACRD’s demand in their news release on August 4, 2011 GSACRD required an educational environment that “completely separates” Morinville children from existing public schools in order to be provided an education without religious permeation.

    However, it’s been made clear to parents that SSD is only an educational partner in Morinville by invitation, that GSACRD will not “accommodate” parents right to public education without religious permeation and that SSD can withdraw their education program or GSACRD can end the invitation at any time. The “demands” being” accommodated” is the ordinary education protected in the Alberta constitution which specifically states any school official attempting to deprive children of that ordinary education (an education without compulsory religious instruction) will have their office void.

    It is not tolerant and understanding to allow a discriminatory school system to continue, to allow a public school board to continue an entitlement that privileges one faith and exceeds their authority defined in the School Act, the Alberta Human Rights Act and the Alberta Act. Any “tone” from parents may always seem ungrateful to those who see no harm in compulsory Catholic permeation in public schools. The changes that need to occur will only occur if parents continue to hold to the law and not be chastised or silenced by those who prefer the discriminatory status quo. The changes could be soon; they should be soon.

    I as a taxpayer am resentful that GSACRD and the Ministry of Education are perpetuating an entitlement. Stating that efforts to provide children a public education where they will not be discriminated against on the basis of religion is not a waste of money and effort. Requesting “genuine” public education is appropriate. Alberta public schools will only be genuine when they meet their obligation under law. Ms. Gervais is incorrect to state “All the legislation governing public schools in Alberta, from the Northwest Territories Act of 1875 onward, provides for the formation of public school districts, Protestant or Catholic. There is no reference to secular schools.”

    In the 1886 NWT School Ordinance the need to state whether a public school district was Protestant or Roman Catholic was dropped. In the 1892 NWT School Ordinance the confessional school system of Protestant and Roman Catholic created in the 1875 NWT Act was ended and a centralized public and separate school system was established. Some public jurisdictions still used the word Catholic or Protestant after 1886, others were non-denominational. The understanding that Alberta schools provided secular education is actually in the original transcripts of discussion describing the Alberta Act of 1905 regarding religious instruction to be protected. 30 minutes of non-compulsory religious instruction could be provided at the end of the day. Read the Euchner case of 2008:

    The 1884 School Ordinance significantly restricted the extent to which religion could permeate educational teaching. Apart from the opening prayer, a general prohibition on religious instruction was legislated until 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. Section 84 was explicit in the separation of secular and religious instruction:

    84. No religious instruction, such as a bible reading, or reciting, or reading or reciting prayers, or asking questions or giving answers from any catechism, shall be permitted in any public or separate Protestant or Catholic school in the North-West Territories, from the opening of such school at nine o’clock in the forenoon until the hour of three o’clock in the afternoon, after which time any such instruction as may be allowed under this Ordinance and permitted or desired by the trustees of the district may be given.

    And in 1905:

    …complete secularization of all schools between 9 o’clock in the morning and 3:30 in the afternoon, except that any school, if the trustees so desire, may be opened with the Lord’s prayer; …

    Parents have the protection to vote for resident public trustees who fulfill their constitutional obligation to provide ordinary education to all families within their jurisdiction regardless of religious affiliation and honour their constitutional and statutory obligation to allow exclusion from religious instruction.

  7. I would like to respond personally about the intentions behind my letter to Premier Redford. I am certainly appreciative for the amount of work that has been put in by Sturgeon School Division. I have spent a lot of time and money in working to make our school great, and I really believe that it is. The problem is the lack of proper facilities for learning. I am just hoping that the Premier might take note that some taxpayers in the area may prefer to support a public school that their children will actually be attending.

    I’m not sure why Kerry is so angry at us, and needs to belittle our children and our situation. Of the nearly 90 students in MPES, I have heard only positive comments about the school. We are looking forward to a bit of time in the gym at Vanier and it was the instruction, not the building that was the issue. I hope that everyone can appreciate the idea of community and sharing and embrace the changes, especially at this time of year.

    Merry Chistmas and Happy Holidays! (I don’t think the Catholic Church has a copyrighton that, do they?)

    Stacey Buga

  8. Kim:

    Why Happy Holidays? Are you implying that any individual, of any faith, or even no faith, desiring an inclusive public education for all, devoid of monotheological permeation, should be restricted as to which holiday greeting or what they should use in a public missive?

    I hope not.

  9. Thank you to Sturgeon School Division for providing so wonderful a program to the students of Morinville Public Elementary School despite the inadequate facilities of which they have been forced to make due and despite the many obstacles they have encountered to provide this excellent programming in a community to which they have no legal responsibility. I am grateful. I have heard Ms. Buga express the same when asked her opinion of Sturgeon School Division’s involvement in Morinville. After rereading Ms. Buga’s letter I understand her dissatisfaction to be with her current public school board (GSACRD) and Alberta’s Ministry of Education.

    Thank you to Sturgeon School Division for understanding that public education should be delivered in an environment that represents the diverse nature of Alberta’s current population. Thank you Sturgeon School Division for understanding that a public school has no right to grade children on their “Growth in Christian Values”. This is something no one has the moral sanctity to justify.

    And finally thank you to Kerry and Kim for commenting after this article and exposing so publicly the kind of discrimination and prejudice that families of Morinville face regularly if they choose not to send their children to their public school who promotes religious teaching of one faith above all others. Speaking with such delighted enthusiasm about Morinville Public Elementary School children’s lack of their own washroom facilities, library, and gymnasium (Kerry); and having our personal religious beliefs called into question (Kim) are two examples of the daily murmurs families hear whispered at grocery stores, laughed at over coffee and yelled while our children are participating in community events.

    Again, thank you Sturgeon School Division for your continued efforts. You are appreciated.

  10. This is a debate that will never end as long as this town stands. There’s no discrimination here, the implication at hand is the Morinville Moms (or whatever the group has titled themselves), jumped the school board last year and made some obscene demands that couldn’t be met under the current legal and financial circumstances. I pray the families affected by the circumstances do get a new school complete with playground, gymnasium and library so this circus can finally shut down. Constantly hearing how a few families have been victimized by the education system is getting old. While the Province gets their business in order to build you a new school, be patient and don’t inconvenience those who aren’t complaining. We didn’t force your children into the current school situation, you did.

    Merry Christmas and hopefully 2012 brings everyone health and happiness!


  11. I do not think it is unfair to request a non denomination school local to Morinville; and in my personal experience no PUBLIC school I have ever attended (And as a military child I attended a LOT) ever had any form of prayer or religious over tones period.

    Why do we pay taxes if not for a PUBLIC school system instead of a religious one. It was my understanding in most other towns/villages/cities that Public and (I will use Catholic as a general example) Catholic schools are different and funded by different school boards.

    Morinville is behind the times when it comes to having separate school systems, and if someone who is not Catholic wants to send their child to school why should they be forced to send them to another town, with other children and not their local friends and neighbors?

  12. I understand the frustration of some parents that want a secular education. Change is hard and it doesn’t happen over night and it is hard when children are only young for such a short time. To have to wait could mean a big chunk of their schooling. I DO get this frustration.

    Nevertheless, there are many parents who are happy with the school system that we have. GSACRD had treated us well and provided great educators and experiences for our children. We in no way think that you are not entitled to a secular education, you are. Yet for some of this it is getting a little old. It is coming and we ALL want you to get what you want as it is also hard for those of us who are afraid to say that we are actually happy with GSACRD. All the bashing and hatred it ruining our community. On both sides. I enjoy GSACRD but it doesn’t mean I want to fight or that I should be told we are taking away your rights. I have a hard time seeing the schools that have cared and taught my children be drug through the press. This isn’t the teachers that are at fault here and this takes a toll on all of them.

    Truthfully, many of us just want to hear that you are happy the ball is moving. You wanted a secular option. You didn’t want to move communities. An option was created and we all sighed in relief. But then it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t a ‘real’ school. Portables were not fast enough. It wasn’t all in one spot. It doesn’t have a gym. Or a computer lab. Or a playground. So Vanier will share. But this doesn’t seem good enough either. You want a ‘full’ school just for yourself because you are sure that you will have enough students for one school if you had a real building.

    But I cannot see it ending there. What if you were given Notre Dame or Vanier. Well, the High School or Junior High students wouldn’t have a foods kitchen or an industrial arts shop or science lab. It wouldn’t be enough. I just fear it will never be enough and this worries me.

    I don’t want to sound like a downer but I have sat back and listened and every time I begin to think that this strife may be finding a solution it seems like it is never enough. Perhaps this is the point that Ms. Gervais was trying to get across.

    The secular parents are not the only ones who want to see an end to this. We all do. We hate seeing the school of our choice (remember, most of us have chosen to stay with GSACRD now that the Morinville Public School has opened) slammed continually in the news. WE love our schools as much as you are loving MPS. We also just want you to find some happiness in all this. We are not all Catholic bad-guys who ‘whisper in grocery stores or yell at you during community events’.

    • We’re going to end the commentary on this letter to the editor here. The 13 comments have given both sides a chance to be heard from and the original letter writer a chance to respond and clarify.

      MorinvilleNews.com commences our annual one week holiday tomorrow and that does not include time spent reading and approving comment postings.

      Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2012.

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