By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Legislation is to be tabled Wednesday that seeks to resolve the issue of non-faith-based education in Morinville. Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced he will table The St. Albert and Sturgeon Valley School Districts establishments act in the Legislature Feb. 22 around 3 p.m. A media conference on the proposed legislation is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
The issue of non-faith-based education in Morinville first presented itself as an issue during the 2010 municipal election in Morinville when then Morinville resident Donna Hunter raised questions as to why Morinville’s only educational choice was Catholic schools.
A formal request for public education was made to Greater St. Albert Regional Catholic Division (GSACRD) in November of 2010 at which time Hunter and the other parents lobbying for an education free of religion were told such an education was not within GSACRD’s mandate as a Catholic school division.
Although provincial legislation allows parents to remove their children from classes on religion, Catholic teachings permeate the school day in Morinville’s four GSACRD-run schools. That situation remained an untenable one for a number of Morinville parents who continued to put pressure on the school board and the province to provide a non-faith-based option for their children.
A temporary solution was found in the summer of 2011 when GSACRD chose Sturgeon School Division as its education partner to provide a non-faith-based public education to those Morinville families who desired it for their children. Public school students began their school year in classes in the Morinville RC Parish Hall and Morinville Community Cultural Centre. Grades 1 to 4 students later transferred to the Sturgeon School Division offices in Morinville and – most recently – to two modular classrooms attached to École Georges P. Vanier School. The modular classrooms were opened and occupied Jan. 23.
Bill seeks to offer solution
Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, like his predecessor David Hancock, preferred to find a home-grown solution to the matter and gave GSACRD, Sturgeon School Division and St. Albert Protestant until mid-January of this year to find a workable solution.
Although no details on just what the solution contained in Bill 4: The St. Albert and Sturgeon Valley School Districts establishments act have been released, it is said to address the matter of non-faith-based education in Morinville, accommodations, and the matter of non-residency voting. As it currently sits, parents whose children attend Morinville Public Elementary School are not able to vote for Sturgeon School Division trustees as they are not residents of that school division.
One Morinville parent who has been lobbying for a solution and is bracing herself for what could be another let down is Rayann Menard.
“I’m feeling apprehensive,” she told MorinvilleNews.com Tuesday night. “So much time an effort has gone into this. This could potentially be the moment we have all been waiting for. Then again, it could just be much ado about nothing, I’m getting used to that, too.”
Menard said she would have to wait and see what Wednesday brings.
But those happy with the school system the way it exists are also concerned with what Wednesday’s announcement will bring. A posting on the Facebook group We support the public faith based education system in Morinville, AB recently posted their concerns about how the new bill will affect their educational opportunities. “Recently the Minister quoted, ‘There will be some who won’t be happy with the decision, I’m sure, those who don’t want things to change. But to me, this is a human rights issue, and a suffrage issue.’ How do you interpret that?” the posting reads.
The Education Minister’s delay in releasing information on the solution has left both sets of parents unsure of what the future may bring.
Possible jurisdictional changes?
GSACRD operates 18 schools in St. Albert, Morinville and Legal with 5,733 students and 405 certified staff. Sturgeon School Division operates 16 schools with 4,244 students and 287 certified staff. St. Albert Protestant Separate School Division operates 17 schools with 6,529 students and 386 certified staff members.
Just if or how jurisdictions may be realigned or what will be proposed in Wednesday’s legislative session remains to be seen. It is unknown if schools will transfer jurisdiction or if additional infrastructure will be provided to accommodate future growth for the existing Morinville Public Elementary School system. According to provincial school jurisdiction figures, Sturgeon School Division and GSACRD are both at 66 per cent of their respective 6,429 and 8,643 student capacities, and St. Albert Protestant is currently at 82 per cent of its 7,934 student capacity.
Assembly sitting No. 9 will commence at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It is anticipated Bill 4 will be introduced around 3 p.m. The session may be viewed live at http://assemblyonline.assembly.ab.ca/.