School system changes long overdue

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Finally, some common sense may be coming to remedy the confusing separate-public school issue in the St. Albert area.

For far too long the government allowed the region’s school boards to be the opposite of probably every other school district in Canada. In the rest of the country the public school system was non-denominational and non-Catholic while the separate system was Catholic. But here it appeared we had no public system.

Whether you were from as far away as Newfoundland-Labrador or as close as Edmonton, if you moved to St. Albert, you had to be careful when registering your child for school, to be sure you had the right system. The media also had to be careful to explain in every story that the Catholic system was actually public. Even long-time St. Albert residents often have difficulty remembering which is the public system.

It’ll be much easier once the legislature passes the bill Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk introduced Wednesday to flip the school boards and bring them in line with the rest of the country.

It has to be noted that this isn’t the first time the flip has been tried. Each of the Catholic and Protestant boards had suggested the change in the past, but each time one side objected.

This time the Greater St. Albert Catholic division likes the change because it gains the separate designation and the St. Albert Protestant board is opposed because it wants to remain separate.

That designation carries more explicit rights to elect trustees and protection from amalgamation.

The issue of future amalgamation remains and it appears to have been the stumbling block to resolving this issue much earlier, and without government intervention. And it is a legitimate concern. No doubt the Protestant trustees looked at the huge mass of land to the north that is Sturgeon County and the rapidly advancing giant to the south that is Edmonton. Both have public school boards.

As long as St. Albert functions largely as a bedroom community, it will be vulnerable to eventually being absorbed by a growing Edmonton. If that happens, it’s inevitable that the St. Albert public school board would also be amalgamated, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

What’s surprising is the reaction to this week’s bill. An online poll stalbertgazette.com shows a split, with 56 per cent of people saying the change was long overdue and 44 per cent saying the system was fine.

Somewhat disturbing are the comments suggesting this change is somehow an anti-Christ movement. Not so. This bill came about largely because a couple of mothers in Morinville did not want their children to attend a religious school. It is their right to have their kids taught in a public school, without prayer and other religious teachings.

It’s too bad it took two mothers and a lengthy, arduous battle that’s still not over to get the system changed. But finally it will be done and that’s a good thing.

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St. Albert Gazette

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