MORINVILLE - Come September, parents of Morinville will have a non-faith based option for their children's education.
Earlier in the school year, a parent delegation from Morinville demanded secular education for their children, free of exposure to any aspect of the Catholic faith. They wanted their children in schools devoid of the slightest nuance, conversation or symbol relating to the Church.
This provision had been unavailable to them, with the town having four schools, all served by the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional School Division.
The school division has entered into an agreement with Sturgeon School Division to serve parents who want a non-faith based option for their children.
Donna Hunter was the parent who led the initial charge to have non-faith based education in Morinville. Her three children attended Notre Dame School. She and her family have since moved to Edmonton.
Despite leaving Morinville, she remains active in her fight for a non-denominational school there.
Another parent, Marjorie Kirsop, said the process has been far more difficult than she anticipated. She also considered moving her family from the community if a solution could not be reached.
"I am glad that Sturgeon is the partner and will be providing a program in the town so that my kids do not have to leave the town of Morinville in order to get a regular, public education," said Kirsop. She has three children, two of whom now attend Notre Dame School.
Since Sturgeon School Division will provide the new program, Kirsop said she will not be fully satisfied until it becomes the public school board in Morinville.
"The problem isn't difficult to resolve, but we need the education minister to actually step in and resolve the issue because he's the only one who has the authority to do so. He could easily make Sturgeon the public school division of Morinville," said Kirsop.
"Those who want a Catholic education can still have a Catholic education within the town."
Students in the non-faith based program will attend classes in a modular classroom. Kirsop said some parents might be cautious about having their children attend a new school, away from their friends, teachers and familiar environment.
"I could see a lot of people being hesitant about it. But as the years go on, there will be an increase in students and one day we will get our own actual school," said Kirsop.
David Keohane, superintendent of Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, said that they have consistently maintained that the Catholic faith is freely chosen.
The school district did not want to be perceived as trying to indoctrinate non-Catholic children, which is contrary to Church teaching.
"We maintain and will continue to maintain that it is not the role of the Catholic public school district to engage in the provision of secular education programs for kids," said Keohane.
He views the agreement as a temporary solution that is untenable long-term. Since the education minister sought a solution, this educational agreement is an interim decision.
Morinville has about 8,000 residents, which support at least eight different faith groups. Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools and Sturgeon School Division conducted a survey of the general public and school community. The results showed that 37 per cent of the community supported another educational choice in Morinville that is non-faith based.
"The survey was helpful only from the perspective of enabling us to understand that there is an interest in the community from parents to receive an alternative form of education than we provide," said Keohane.
The survey showed strong support for the Catholic school district's history and programming.
A total of 106 K-12 students in the schools indicated their intent to access a non-faith based program in the coming school year. That is about six per cent of the student population.
"If you look at the flipside of that, 94 per cent of our parents would not express an initial interest to change. Many of those are non-Catholic parents who simply see what the value system at our schools provides for their children as their first educators," said Keohane.
"That's a very positive statement of support for the kind of work that we do."
Pivotal Research Inc. projected that as many as 272 K-12 students are interested in a non-faith based program.
"The real survey takes place the moment the partnering board starts to take registrations," said Keohane.
Alberta Education has a modified voucher system. That means the instructional dollars for each student go to the school the student attends. Fewer students attending the four Catholic schools in Morinville means less money for those schools. Of that money, 85 per cent is for staffing.