Few changes seen in third version of Education Act
Boards applaud focus on bullying
By: Kevin Ma
| Posted: Saturday, Oct 27, 2012 06:00 am
Catholic residents in Morinville will get to vote for trustees in the Sturgeon School Division if the province passes the new Education Act.
Education Minister Jeff Johnson tabled Bill 3 in the Alberta legislature this week. The bill, known as the Education Act, is meant to replace the 1988 School Act that currently governs schools in Alberta.
This is the third version of the bill to be tabled. Former minister Dave Hancock tabled the first in 2011, but pulled it after the Progressive Conservative leadership race. Thomas Lukaszuk brought it back this year, but it didn’t pass before the most recent provincial election.
That prompted some concerns on the part of local boards, said Joan Trettler, chair of St. Albert Public School District. “When it was not proclaimed in the spring, there was this feeling of, ‘Well, what is going to be changed?’”
Not much, as it turns out: this most recent version is pretty much the same as Lukaszuk’s except for the section on diverse and flexible learning.
The previous version said that all courses and instructional materials used in school must “respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act.” That sparked protests from some home-schoolers who thought this affected their ability to teach issues related to ethics or faith.
Sturgeon School Division board chair Terry Jewell said he was surprised people thought this clause would affect their right to religious education. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The new version says those courses and materials must “respect the common values and beliefs of Albertans” and must not promote racial or ethnic superiority or persecution, or social change through violence or disobedience of laws.
One change carried over from the previous version of the act has new significance due to the events of last summer, where the Sturgeon School Division took over as the public board in Morinville from Greater St. Albert Catholic.
Under the current School Act, Jewell notes, members of minority faiths cannot vote in public board elections if a separate board for their faith is present. If you’re Catholic and live in Morinville, in other words, you can’t vote for the Sturgeon School Division board, even if your child attends one of their schools.
The new bill will let anyone take part in public board elections regardless of their religion if it’s passed. “If you’re of the minority faith, you can run for the public board,” Jewell said. Catholic board elections are still open only to Catholics, he added.
The bill keeps its focus on bullying prevention, requiring students to refrain from and report bullying no matter where or when it happens.
“So much of the bullying that goes on happens outside the bricks and mortar” of the school, Jewell said, particularly when it comes to cyber-bullying. This new bill empowers schools to go after bullies outside of school hours and off school grounds.
Catholic board superintendent David Keohane said he approved of how the bill expanded responsibility for bullying to parents, students and school boards. “We welcome anything that gives us a stronger definition (of bullying) and support to schools addressing bullying.”
The bill, if passed, would require children to attend school until they are 17 instead of 16. It would also give residents two more years to attend publicly funded high schools, raising the cut-off age to 21 from 19.
Trettler was skeptical of claims this change could increase high-school completion rates, as so few St. Albert students drop out at 16. “For us, I’m not sure it’ll make much difference.”
The bill has passed second reading and is now headed to committee of the whole for review. The text of the bill can be found at www.assembly.ab.ca.