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Catholic board outlines 'unique position' to minister

St. Albert Catholic school trustees aren’t backing all of the recommendations submitted by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association (ACSTA) to the province regarding a new Education Act because they contravene existing board policy.

St. Albert Catholic school trustees aren’t backing all of the recommendations submitted by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association (ACSTA) to the province regarding a new Education Act because they contravene existing board policy.

In a 16-page letter sent to Alberta Education in 2009, ACSTA, whose mandate is to advocate for Catholic education, suggested a number of changes and amendments to a new Education Act.

Among them, ACSTA recommends the removal of section 50(2), which allows parents to remove a student from religious instruction or programming.

ACSTA argues this provision should not apply to Catholic separate or public schools because it goes against their mandate to permeate Catholic theology, philosophy, practice and belief in all aspects of school life.

Another recommendation from ACSTA is that Catholic school council members be of the Catholic faith.

ACSTA also believes that Bill 44, which allows parents to remove their children from potentially controversial discussions, doesn’t apply to the teaching of Catholic doctrine in Catholic schools.

“It is expected that students attending a Catholic public or separate school will receive a wholly-permeated Catholic education based upon Catholic doctrine, philosophy and theology,” according to the letter from ACSTA.

In a letter sent to Education Minister Dave Hancock earlier this year, Morinville resident Thomas Kirsop criticized several of ACSTA’s recommendations, specifically those dealing with school council representation, access to religious education and the rights of residents within the district.

A growing number of parents are calling on the Catholic school board to provide a secular, public education option in Morinville, where all four schools fall under the board’s umbrella.

“For the first time in my 39 years I truly feel I understand the concept of moral outrage. I also now say I truly understand the concept of civic duty and obligation,” Kirsop wrote to the minister.

“Removing the rights of the majority of Morinville within a publicly-funded education system is wrong. It closes doors to opportunity, it is not fair, it denies citizenship, suppresses diversity and it removes all choice.”

The board held a special meeting on Jan. 25 to discuss ACSTA’s submission and Kirsop’s letter.

In a Jan. 26 letter sent to Alberta Education Minister Dave Hancock obtained by the Gazette, the board outlines existing board policy and stresses the “unique position” of Catholic education in Morinville and Legal.

“We agree with Mr. Kirsop with regard to how he feels the School Division should approach school council representation, accessibility to religious education and the electoral rights of residents with our Public Catholic School Division,” read the board’s letter.

According to the board, alternative programs such as a health and wellness or study skills class are available in Morinville and Legal for students who opt out of the religious education class.

“We would always have an option for schools in Legal and Morinville to provide a different program, an option program, in place of a religious program. We would always do that,” said board chair Lauri-Ann Turnbull.

However, Turnbull said schools do offer a prayer service in the morning and during assemblies.

“There would be prayer in the morning and in our assembly, there would be some religious component, certainly in Morinville and Legal, but it would be more of an ecumenical nature,” Turnbull said.

Regarding Kirsop’s concern about the faith of school council members, Turnbull said any parent or guardian is encouraged to participate in school councils as reflected in the board’s administrative procedure manual.

“We like to have all parents and guardians and students that attend our school, they’re welcome to be at our parent councils, we encourage that and we would also encourage them to be members of the executive of those councils,” she said.

“As well, we would always ensure that any resident within our school boundaries would be able to pursue being a trustee if they so wish,” Turnbull said.

In its letter to the minister, the board said it supports ACSTA and its mission.

“At the same time, we recognize the unique position of Catholic education in Morinville and Legal and support the policies and procedures that have been developed by our Board in responding to this matter,” wrote the board.

Kirsop, who also received a copy of the board’s letter, said he was not satisfied with the board’s response, in particular with their failure to disagree outright with ACSTA’s proposed changes to the act.

“I find it very nice that they have administrative policies that theoretically will protect me and my children after they rip my rights out of the act,” Kirsop said.

“However, where I come from, administrative policies change in a whim.”

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