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Lord's Prayer to return to Sturgeon Heights

The Lord's Prayer will once again be said at Sturgeon Heights School this fall and that has one local parent steamed.

The Lord's Prayer will once again be said at Sturgeon Heights School this fall and that has one local parent steamed.

The board of trustees for Sturgeon School Division approved a plan at its regular meeting last week to let parents choose if they want their students at Sturgeon Heights to say the Lord's Prayer at the start of the school day.

Sturgeon Heights has traditionally had its students say the Lord's Prayer each morning since the school opened in 1971. It is the only school in the Sturgeon School Division that does so.

That practice was put on hold for the 2011-12 school year, however, after several parents argued that students should not have to participate in a prayer in a public school. Last December, another group of parents asked the school to reinstate the prayer.

A survey sent to all parents of children at Sturgeon Heights found that 92 per cent said their child would participate in a group recitation of the Lord's Prayer, said principal Garnet Goertzen. About 73 per cent of the surveys were completed.

"It was pretty overwhelming community indication [in favour of] the Lord's Prayer."

That was enough to convince the board to support the school's plan to bring the prayer back, said board chair Terry Jewell.

"The board felt that if a large majority wanted to keep on doing what they were doing for many years, they should be allowed to," he said. "It's called parental choice."

Luke Fevin, one of the parents who opposed the prayer practice, said he was stunned by the board's decision, arguing that it would separate children who didn't want to pray from their peers, ostracizing them.

"Children are being punished and discriminated against so that one faith can be privileged," he said. "That's stunning to me."

Prayer plans

According to the 1901 North-West Territories School Ordinance, which is a part of the Alberta Act, school boards can direct public schools in Alberta to open the school day by reciting the Lord's Prayer.

Sturgeon Heights struck a parents' panel to examine solutions to the prayer issue, Goertzen said. The group found that two of the three suggested solutions — moving the kids to the gym to pray or having them pray silently — were either impractical or not reflective of the wishes of parents.

The school now plans to send a letter this June to the parents of all students at the school asking if they want their child to recite the prayer. Students will then be assigned to mixed-grade homerooms for September, some of which will do the prayer.

As they do now, Goertzen explained, students will start the day by going to their homerooms for announcements and O Canada. After that, the teachers in some of those rooms will have students recite the prayer for about 30 seconds. Teachers in the non-prayer rooms will speak on other school-related topics for that time. "The bell rings, and [the students] go to their Block One class."

While this could split kids from their peers, Goertzen said, it would only be for three minutes. "We split up kids for different reasons all the time," he said. "This is a very minor three minute timeslot."

Fevin, who is an atheist, said it would have been more equitable to keep the kids in their old homerooms with their peers and have anyone who wanted to pray do so silently and in accordance with their own beliefs.

"We have an entire separate school division specifically devoted to the Christian faith," he said, and students can pray at home or during the optional religious class. Sturgeon Heights' solution discriminates against non-Christians and isn't inclusive, he argued. "This is going back in time."

Kevin Ma

About the Author: 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.
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