No easy answers to Morinville secular school issue

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Meeting with education minister reviews options, but doesn't identify solution

Several parents say they are disappointed that a meeting between the Greater St. Albert Catholic school board and Education Minister Dave Hancock yielded no clear direction on the lack of secular education options in Morinville.

“I’m extremely disappointed that it’s more of the same,” said Donna Hunter, after the meeting, which she did not attend, wrapped up late Wednesday afternoon at the legislature.

“It’s the same story every time, how many more hoops do I have to jump through?”

Hunter is one of a growing number of parents who have called on the Greater St. Albert Catholic, which is the public and only school district in town, to provide a secular education option in Morinville.

In December, Hunter formally brought her request to the board.

The request was unanimously opposed by trustees, who provided Hunter with a list of seven options that included forming a separate or private school, approaching a secular school board to establish an alternative program or transporting students to another district.

Catholic board chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull said they had discussed the options presented to Hunter earlier this year during the 90-minute meeting with the minister.

“We did look at the original seven options as well as some others as we were looking at how we might go forward in the future with some short-, medium- and long-term goals,” she said.

“The minister was very good and we have to say that he has offered his assistance if we need it in the future to help us provide or get access to a secular choice for parents.”

Turnbull said the board will meet next month to review options on a “go-forward basis.”

“The solution would be made at the board table … we’ll have to reconvene and get together.”

In addition to Turnbull, superintendent David Keohane and trustees Cathy Proulx, Jacquie Hansen, Rosaleen McEvoy and Noreen Radford attended the meeting. Trustee Dave Caron was absent.

“We do have one board member who was not present here today and we’ll have to bring that person up to speed and make some decisions,” Turnbull said.

She said the board would contact Hunter in the near future.

“I would imagine that next month sometime we should be having some ideas as to where we’re going with this,” said Turnbull.

Local issue, says minister

Hancock said the board would eventually need to look at how many students would be interested in a secular program.

“At some point in time, there has to be a discussion of how many people because obviously no one is going to go out and build a school for one student,” Hancock said after the meeting.

But he said it was up to the board to find a solution.

“You have to do what’s right and what’s practical and reasonable in the circumstance and they will have a discussion with the constituents involved and come to a reasonable solution,” he said.

“I think a reasonable expectation to sit down with the board to talk about what needs to be done in order to accomplish their goals.”

While there is no timeline to have the issue resolved, Hancock said he’d like to see it dealt with sooner rather than later.

“The longer these issues hang out there, the more concerns and the more they develop into something that nobody ever intended and I think it behooves the board and the individuals involved to meet early, to work together collaboratively and to come out with a solution,” he said.

Hancock would not say whether he favoured any of the options, but would not rule out the possibility of busing students outside of the community.

“There are students that leave that community every day to go to school; there are students that come to that community every day to go to school. All of those are options and I think that’s why it’s very important we have locally elected boards to deal with locally elected program delivery and to ensure that educational options are available and that people’s rights are met.”

But Marjorie Kirsop, another parent pressing for a secular education program in Morinville, said that is not a viable option.

“To some it seems realistic, to others considering Morinville is a town of 8,000, we have four public schools, why should our kids be put on a bus, be driven 40 minutes away with high school kids to attend a school in another district when we already have the schools in town?

“Why are they not doing anything? This issue has been ongoing since the fall.”

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