Parents in Alberta town seek secular education

The only schools available for the kids in Morinville are Catholic ones, partially on account of the town’s history as a “an outpost of French-Canadian Catholicism in the late 1800s,” according to this Globe and Mail article. Some parents would like that to change.

The Alberta School Act allows children to be excused from religious or patriotic exercises or instruction. “But in a Catholic school, the entire curriculum is permeated with the Catholic theology, hence the problem,” said Frank Peters, an expert in school governance and a professor of education at the University of Alberta.

The parents see their predicament more personally.

“When every other public school division, not just in Alberta, in the country is non-denominational, how can our public school division tell all of our children, ‘It’s Catholic education, you’re the problem and you should leave?’” said Donna Hunter, a Morinville mother and member of the group.

They don’t want to bus their kids to another district 20 minutes away but their local district doesn’t want to make one of the four schools in their area secular. “Handing over the keys to a building … we don’t see that as being either within our mandate, within the scope of the legislation or fiscally prudent,” said District superintendent David Keohane about that.

You donate to the church; the church won’t be that generous the other way because they don’t want to lose any money. Apparently this problem has its root in a rezoning that went on 16 years ago that altered the district’s boundaries.

Mass amalgamations in 1995 in Alberta left Morinville being serviced by a single public Catholic board, while the region’s secular board, the Sturgeon School Division, was confined to areas around Morinville.

Even today, Sturgeon’s head offices are in an old school building in the heart of Morinville, but the district’s boundaries trace a doughnut around the town.

“It’s a pretty unusual set-up,” said Michele Vick, Sturgeon’s superintendent.

Bizarre is a word for it. The board suggests that the parents just pull their kids out of the religion class if they don’t want their kids exposed. The parents are saying that’s not enough because the whole school atmosphere and curriculum is pro-Catholic, it’s not just one class making it Catholic. According to the article, only 30% of students in there would even call themselves Catholic. (It’s good to see that constant bombardment of Catholicism still can’t turn them all into followers.)

In January, when the board’s trustees voted unanimously not to provide Morinville parents with a secular education, a heated debate erupted in the comments section of

“Way to go to the GSACRD School Board! Not wavering in the face of 7 parents’ concern over a little prayer and the intent of teaching Christian values,” one wrote.

I really hate the phrase “Christian values.” Values aren’t the sole property of Christians and you don’t have to be Christian to value trust, honesty or co-operation, or whatever ideals wind up huddling under that unnecessarily religious umbrella. These parents don’t want their kids subjected to the rituals of a faith they don’t follow, plain and simple.

When pressed by another member in the legislature, Mr. Hancock acknowledged that the lack of a secular option in Morinville was unacceptable, but deferred to the Catholic school board on how the situation should be remedied.

A spokesman for Mr. Hancock, Eoin Kenny, said that the school district has satisfied its obligations under the province’s School Act, which is currently undergoing an overhaul.

They’re being selfish. Adding secular schools would mean they’d conceivably stand to lose up to 70% of their current enrollment if all those parents preferred the non-Catholic alternative. Like they’d ever be magnanimous and gladly risk it. They’ve got a monopoly as it is now.

Morinville’s mayor told a local newspaper that there is nothing the town council can do because schooling is outside its jurisdiction.

Ms. Hunter is looking for a lawyer in case Mr. Hancock’s ministry denies her appeal.

“If the provincial government won’t step in, then I’ll have to go to the courts,” she said. “I can’t believe I have to file a court case to get a public education. I feel torn; it would be easier to just move.”

Easier to move, but wouldn’t be solving the problem for those who can’t move out. Don’t they deserve choice, too? It’ll be interesting to see what goes on with this.

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