Denominational Public Schools

One of the issues that the government is challenged with in re-writing the School Act is that one public school jurisdiction (Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division:  GSACRD) thinks of itself as being a de facto separate school jurisdiction, with constitutional privileges matching those of separate school districts.

In dealing with the issue, the government seems to have three options.

1.     They can leave GSACRD alone, and let it make its way as best it can, subject to political pressure from electors, with the government responding to the political pressure as it builds, and – in the face of pressure — requiring conformity with the law as it applies to public school jurisdictions.

2.     They can create a new type of public school jurisdiction, with a denominational character, either Protestant or Roman Catholic, and provide some means by which existing public school jurisdictions might have a denominational character attached to their own jurisdiction.

3.     They can specify that GSACRD is an anomaly, and create a new type of public school jurisdiction for Roman Catholics alone, in one place only – St. Albert.

Options 2 and 3 seem to have the same problems.  Some of these result from constraints imposed by the Constitution, and some are political.

The Constitution is quite clear that the faith entitlements across Alberta are not for Roman Catholics only:  they are for Protestants or Roman Catholics.  At least some Protestants across the province might well object to creating something called a “Roman Catholic Public School” jurisdiction, for the potential benefit of Roman Catholics in one community, without creating a similar potential opportunity for Protestants in other communities.  Do we want to have a denominational flavour for public schools; a flavour that can be imposed on others?

If a new type of public school jurisdiction is created, how does any existing jurisdiction bring itself into that category?  Presumably the government would not write legislation that gives the Minister unilateral authority to designate a public school jurisdiction as having a denominational character:  the problem with such Ministerial discretion is that the Minister gets blamed by some for saying ‘no’ and by others for saying ‘yes’.  Nor would the government want designation to happen merely on the request of the existing Board of Trustees.  A referendum of all eligible electors might be an appropriate way to test the public’s preference.  In the City of St. Albert, for example, everyone who is not Protestant, could vote in such a referendum.  Throughout the rest of the division (i.e. Morinville and Legal) everyone could vote in a referendum.  (There is a Protestant Separate School District in St. Albert, but not in the other parts of GSACRD.)

If such a change is made, then in any community – like St. Albert — with a separate school jurisdiction of one Christian faith and a public school jurisdiction of another Christian faith, the question would arise, where do non-Christians vote, and what jurisdiction has legal responsibility for the education of their children?

The government can hardly write legislation that makes non members of the minority faith voters in a separate school jurisdiction.   (The ACSTA is strongly opposed to such a prospect.)  To make non-members of the minority faith who are also non-members of the “majority” faith voters in a denominationally identified public school jurisdiction leaves the issue unresolved.  Is the government going to create another new type of public school jurisdiction that is explicitly non-denominational?

On the other hand, if a new type of public school jurisdiction is created, and the existing public school jurisdiction fails the test for transition (for example, lack of electoral support in a referendum), could disaffected members of the religious majority faith leave the ‘non-denominational’ public school jurisdiction and create a new denominational public school jurisdiction?

Will Alberta find itself with three school jurisdictions in some communities?

Once past the constitutional issues, the provincial government will be faced with political issues.  Does it want to be seen as narrowing the constitutional entitlement so that it excludes Protestants and is explicitly for Roman Catholics only and, does it want — at the same time — to enlarge the nature of the entitlement for Roman Catholics?  Does it want to open the door to other public school jurisdictions demanding, in future, that they be allowed to function as Roman Catholic Public School jurisdictions?

Conversely, does the provincial government want to open the door to public school jurisdictions across Alberta asking to be designated as Protestant Public School jurisdictions?

Does the government want to handle the political implications by assigning the Minister of Education the responsibility of making the decision and wearing the consequences?  Or does the government want local referenda, with the potential of deep and lasting divisions in communities?

The government is challenged by contentious claims that, if accepted, may well cause discord for years to come.  In the face of this prospect, the government needs to listen to all Albertans, not merely to interest groups, and it needs to consider the future even more than the present.



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One Response to “Denominational Public Schools”

  1. Tweets that mention Denominational Public Schools « Citizens, Community, Democracy -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Darryl Lagerquist, dkingofAlberta. dkingofAlberta said: Denominational Public Schools […]

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