Categories: Local News

Human rights commission denies Morinville school case

Two parents say the Alberta Human Rights Commission has them going in circles in their quest to get secular schools in Morinville.

Former and current Morinville residents Donna Hunter and Marjorie Kirsop learned last week that the Alberta Human Rights Commission had refused to hear their complaints about the lack of secular schooling in Morinville.

Both filed complaints under Section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act in December after Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools said it would not allow their children to be exempt from religious education at schools in Morinville.

Sec. 11.1 of the act requires teachers to give parents notice before teaching students about sexuality, sexual orientation or religion, and requires them to let students avoid those teachings upon written request.

In a letter received by both women Thursday, Audrey Dean, acting director of the commission, said that while their complaints did seem to fall under the protections of Sec. 11.1, the commission could not rule on them as there were “concurrent forums” under which they could be addressed. She advised the women to take their complaints to that forum.

But that concurrent forum is the same Catholic school board that refused their complaint back in December, said Kirsop, who lives in Morinville.

“It ‘s frustrating,” she said. “To me, it ‘s like we ‘re going in circles here.”

Secular showdown

Unlike the rest of Alberta, the public school board in St. Albert and Morinville is Catholic. This has been a problem for parents in Morinville who want their kids to have a secular education, as all the schools in town are Catholic. Sturgeon School Division recently opened the secular Morinville Public Elementary in town as a temporary solution.

Hunter and Kirsop used to have children attending Morinville ‘s Notre Dame Elementary. Hunter has left town in part due to the secular school dispute; Kirsop ‘s kids now attend Morinville Public Elementary.

Hunter said she and Kirsop have asked the chief of the commission to review Dean ‘s decision.

“We ‘re a little concerned that they ‘re saying this isn ‘t the forum for human rights discussion, because that ‘s exactly what it is,” she said. “Why is it even in the Alberta Human Rights Act if you ‘re saying no matter what, you can ‘t accept the complaint?”

The Catholic school board has said it was not going to offer secular education in Morinville, Kirsop says.

“If you refuse to offer public education, in my opinion, then you shouldn ‘t be the public school board,” she said.

Hunter says she ‘s now waiting for Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk to intervene in this situation, noting that on Friday it will be a year since she asked him to do so.

“If he doesn ‘t formally overturn Greater St. Albert [Catholic ‘s] resolution to deny us this education, that ‘s not a solution,” she said.

Lukaszuk is expected to announce a solution to the Morinville school problem sometime this month, according to his office.

Hunter and several other parents have also filed complaints with the commission under Sec. 4 of the human rights act, which forbids people from denying others goods and services based on religious belief. The commission has yet to respond to these cases, Hunter said.

Public schools are not allowed to force religious education onto students, Hunter noted.

“It ‘s right there in the Alberta Act,” she said, referring to Sec. 17(1) of that document, which lets parents have their kids opt-out of religious instruction.

Public education is a right, Kirsop said, and they shouldn ‘t have to fight for it.

“Are people just supposed to enroll their kids in Catholic schools because that ‘s the only option? That ‘s not Canadian.”

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.