Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 14, 2000
Public schools battle new Catholic district
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Can a public and separate school system legally co-exist under one roof? The Sturgeon School Division hopes not.
Sturgeon has filed a lawsuit against Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division challenging the amalgamation of the Guilbault Roman Catholic Separate School District and the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division, a public school system.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a recent vote by parents in the Bellerose area to form their own separate school district and join with the St. Albert division. The lawsuit also seeks to prevent the Alberta government from proceeding with the Bellerose application.
"We need to do this in order to protect the interests of our school division," said Therese Gervais, chairperson of the Sturgeon School Division.
"This is not a matter of Catholic education for us. It's a matter of a separate system joining with a public system."
But those on the opposite side of the litigation table think otherwise.
"This is about Catholic education," said Jody Hunt, chairperson of the St. Albert Division. "It's about parents practising their constitutional right to choose the school they want."
Parent Marilyn Simonsmeier, one of the forces behind the formation of the Bellerose Separate School District, agrees with Hunt and hopes the litigation proceedings are not dragged out in court.
"I think it's a loophole for them to stop this and nothing else," Simonsmeier said.
The argument is in the wording of what is defined as a separate and public school system. In St. Albert because the Catholic system was the first school system in the city, it is the public system.
But it's not support for the public system that parents of Guilbault and Bellerose are standing behind.
"It is the Catholic education that is important here," Simonsmeier said. "We want our kids in Catholic schools.
There has been little indication of it thus far, but Simonsmeier said the lawsuit can only spark animosity among parents, many of whom are parishioners at the same church.
The lawsuit could also be costly, said Hunt, especially if it ends up in court.
"I'm shocked that another public school division would do this," Hunt said. "Now that we've been challenged, we have to expend money on lawyers instead of putting them into the classrooms where they are needed."
But Gervais says the suit is necessary because "the decision of a small group of parents will affect the entire community."
The cost of students leaving the Sturgeon division for St. Albert is about $5,600 per student. Gervais said that impact is significant for a small school division like Sturgeon.
The two sides agree that the lawsuit is aimed at preventing the establishment of more separate school districts in the Sturgeon area.
"The rumour has it that a census has been taken or is being taken in another area," Gervais said. "They may be just rumours, but there are parents in other communities who are considering setting up their own (separate school district)."
Simonsmeier also knows of parents in neighbouring communities who are interested in setting up separate school districts to join with the St. Albert Catholic division.