Searching for Secular Education in Edmonton December 21, 2010

Searching for Secular Education in Edmonton

There’s a brave Canadian mother in Edmonton right now trying to find a public school for her daughter.

Donna Hunter can’t find a secular public school, though, because all the local schools are run by Catholics.

The Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional Division, which also has schools in St. Albert and Legal, operates all four of the schools in Morinville — two elementary, one junior high and one high school — with a “Christ-centred learning” environment.

It’s the public school board because when it was established nearly 150 years ago, the majority of people in the area were Catholic and is now the only area in the province where the Catholic board operates the public school system.

That’s a frightening prospect. And it may be an illegal one, too, so there’s hope Hunter will find a school that’s reality-focused instead of Christ-centered. It’s a long-shot right now.

Hunter is also taking a lot of heat for bringing this issue up in the first place. Her supporters are hiding out, sight unseen:

Despite being the first parent to bring this issue before the school board formally, Hunter said she has received the quiet support of at least 30 families in the town, but added many are afraid of speaking up out of fear of being ostracized.

I hope more come to her side and this issue is taken care of quickly. No one should be indoctrinated into nonsense. Even if it is Catholic school and the kids will probably grow out of it when they hit the Age of Reason.

This is the type of thing that I worry is also happening with hospitals in America, too. Catholic hospitals are taking over secular ones, which means the hospital becomes a place where no abortions occur, no contraception is prescribed, no vasectomies are performed, and no ectopic pregnancies are prevented.

They have too much power as it is. We can’t let them acquire any more.

(Thanks to Kirby for the link)

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  • AJ

    There is the option of homeschooling. There are online schools that give you all the books and other supplies and you do the work online. Completely legal and completely secular. I know this sounds strange as most people think of homeschoolers as extremely religious, but I assure you there are many, many secular homeschoolers, too.

  • Chelsea

    As someone who grew up in St. Albert (I lived there for seven years, up until this past fall when I moved into University res), it always bugged me that the primary school district was Catholic. I always wondered if there was a law against it.

    However, from personal experience I can definitely say that there is no shortage of secular schools in the area. The secondary school board may be called the St. Albert PROTESTANT school board, but by protestant it seems they just mean NOT CATHOLIC, because there is no religious education taught in these schools and the line between church and education was never once crossed in my five years in those schools.

    I don’t know how old her children are, but there are plenty of the “Protestant” elementaries, such as Muriel Martin Elementary, several junior highs as well (I went to WD Cuts, great public school), and two out of the four high schools are non-Catholic (there is St Albert Catholic High and the French immersion school which actually teaches junior AND senior high, and I believe that one is Catholic as well. But Paul Kane and Bellerose are both secular.) I don’t see why she’s having a problem finding a school for her children.

  • Chelsea

    I reread that and it seems to imply that she lives in Morinville… in that case it might be more of a problem. My brother’s girlfriend grew up there and I think she said her only option was Catholic school.

  • amey

    Regarding the hospital comment – the Catholics just lost one. St. Joe’s here in Phoenix just had it’s Catholic status removed by the local bishop because it chose to protect a mother’s life over a fetus’s.

  • Angel

    I actually live in Edmonton and it should be noted that the communities referenced, and the community in which she resides, aren’t actually *in* Edmonton, and are quite some distance outside the Edmonton Public School District.

    That point of note aside…I wasn’t aware that there weren’t any options for rural communities in the central area. I’ll be following this story closely!

  • Chelsea

    @AJ- If she wants to work and have a career while her children grow up, homeschooling isn’t really an option.

    And yes, it should be noted that Edmonton itself has a fully functioning public school board, as Angel pointed out.

  • Godless Lawyer

    Publicly funded Catholic denominational schools are enshrined in the Canadian Constitution for every province but Quebec (where, at the time of confederation, Catholics were in the majority and protestant schools enjoyed a similar status). While public funding for separate religious boards has been done away with in some provinces (such as Quebec), it is not an easy thing to accomplish.

    So the choice to have only catholic schools in an area is not only lawful – it’s probably more accurate to say that having chosen to go that way, it would now be illegal to change that system.

  • School systems in Canada are a mixed bag, with many existing before Confederation. Some jurisdictions are like this one in Alberta with no secular alternative; some where the religious systems were discontinued in favour of a secular system and some areas have parallel secular and religious systems. In all cases the schools are considered public schools and receive public funding.

    There are private religious schools that don’t receive public funding, but these tend to be more specialized and may be fundamentalist, jewish, muslim or other faith groups.

    Given that Canada has no establishment clause, religious school systems are possible and not illegal, but legal decisions have occurred dismissing any religious “right” to a school system.

    As was done in Newfoundland, the province could decide to abolish or consolidate these systems, but they would have to deal with the electoral consequences and potentially higher costs of establishing new governance structures.

    All that to say it’s a rather different situation than in the US and its resolution will require general public support to develop a rigourous secular option and get beyond the current “solution” of opting out religion courses. The new Education act looks like a promising move in the right direction.

  • cass_m

    A former education minister is trying to get support for abolishing the double system in Alberta. I’ve always thought it was a waste of public funds but inertia is very strong. Should she choose homeschooling there are very good programs that where kids get together for activities.

  • Rich Wilson


    it chose to protect a mother’s life over a fetus’s

    To clarify, the choice was either do nothing, and both die, or intervene, and fetus dies.

  • MutantJedi

    There are two school boards in Alberta: public and separate. For most of the province, the public school board is non-catholic. To say it is protestant is not completely accurate. Where the public school board is not catholic, the separate school board is catholic.

    In some communities, where in days gone past the majority of the citizens were French/catholic, the public school system is catholic and the separate school system is non-catholic. St. Albert and Morinville are two such communities.

    The non-catholic school systems are best described as being mostly secular. Though, of course, the tenor of the local community would dictate just how secular the school is. Growing up in Edmonton and Spruce Grove and with kids that grew up in St. Albert, my experience is that most teachers strive to be sensitive to Canada’s multicultural experience.

    Morinville is a small rural community to the north of St. Albert (which is, in turn, north of Edmonton). Population is about 7500. If the population is mostly catholic (as declared when paying property taxes), I doubt there will be a much by the way of options for non-catholics.

  • Angel

    Because of the politics in Alberta, and the growing trend that makes the Kansas State Board of Education look positively forward-thinking, I’m actually quite convinced that if I do ever have children and I’m still residing in this black hole, I’m homeschooling. I refuse to have my hypothetical children attend school only to receive half an education due to recent political bullshittery.

    I can’t believe *I’m* the one who would have to homeschool in the situation of my wanting children to get a proper sex education and learning about evolution. We have two school systems, both funded by the public, so the religious freaks can send their children to be indoctrinated on their own terms. But no. That’s not good enough.

    Annnnd. End rant.

  • Angel

    my experience is that most teachers strive to be sensitive to Canada’s multicultural experience

    That has been my experience in and around the central Alberta region as well. Any grievance I have with the educational system in this province has come about because of the mixture of religion and politics in our public schools.

  • MrPeach

    Not to be difficult, but I had my vasectomy done at a local Catholic hospital (like almost 30 years ago).

  • I’m not sure how the education system works in Canada but can Donna Hunter not opt for a Catholic school and then opt out of religious education and indoctrination? I know that this is possible in UK schools and I understand that the systems share some similarities.

  • While there are most certainly pockets of idiocy in our northern neighbor, I find it ironic that overall -despite the absence of a separation clause in their constitution-they are still light years ahead of the U.S. in regards to generally maintaining a secular attitude.

  • Grimalkin

    Having a Catholic school system (that receives my tax money, no less) is perfectly legal in Canada. Centre for Inquiry Canada is working with several other organizations (including religious groups) to institute a single, public, secular school system instead. There isn’t enough support to make the switch country-wide yet, but they’re working on it.

    Here’s the website of the Network:

  • Godless Lawyer

    Hoverfrog –

    Answer to your question is no.

    At best, you’re going to be able to sign your children out of otherwise mandatory school mass. I’m less familiar with Alberta, but in Ontario the religious education credit is a mandatory part of the curriculum in Catholic schools. I would guess it’s the same in Alberta.

  • Despite being the first parent to bring this issue before the school board formally, Hunter said she has received the quiet support of at least 30 families in the town, but added many are afraid of speaking up out of fear of being ostracized.

    Boy, do I know that feeling. When I was harrassed on a State job, I had people doing the same thing, telling me quietly that what was happening was wrong but they were afraid to come forward and support me.

    This is wrong. Catholic should not be her only option. Hell, even my fundie nut job mother would have had a problem with that.

    AJ, not everyone can homeschool. There’s other factors: cost, someone available to be home with the kids with the capability and patience to do the teaching, the child’s needs for socialization (my daughter was fine studying on her own; my grandson, who we consider it for from time to time as the public school aggravates, would probably climb the walls at the end of a long day with just his grandmother by the time his friends got home from public school, yes, he’d do outside activities — required in NY and for his temperament even it if weren’t — but it’s not the same as spending the day in school with the other kids), a child’s predisposition or not to apply themselves independently.

  • Ian

    Separate school boards are *technically* in the constitution of Canada, but it’s been written out for Manitoba, Newfoundland and Quebec recently, requiring only a two-line agreement between the provincial and federal government (usually after a referendum). BC also has never had separate school boards, but like Alberta does fund charter religious schools to some proportion.

  • Angel

    hoverfrog – The article and further information released have made it clear that the school is incapable of filtering out religion from their programs, and the most they are willing to do at this point is to let her opt her child out of religion class.

    Grimalkin – At least in Edmonton, I am able to specify on my taxes that I want 100% of my taxes supporting the public school board. For people who don’t exercise that option (or weren’t aware of it), the standard default is 50/50 between the Public and the Catholic boards.

  • Trixie

    I hope this parent goes beyond the local school board and takes this issue directly to the provincial Minister of Education. She may stand alone, but sometimes, all it takes is one person to make the change. The Public Schools Act in Manitoba clearly states that public schools are to be non-sectarian. Back in 1986, a high school student in MacGregor, MB refused to stand for the then mandatory Lord’s Prayer. He was suspended, but eventually took his case to court. His was a class action lawsuit in Manitoba and eventually led the government to abolishing its mandatory prayer clause. It was the actions of this student that made my job, years later, of fighting the illegal prayer in my daughter’s school without going to court, possible. (Sorry for the lack of citations).

  • Lee

    Hi everyone,
    I too have been following this story closely. For those who are interested, the Morinville parents have created a facebook page “Public non-faith based school in Morinville, AB.” A timeline of their efforts is on the Wall, and the Notes section has some research.!/pages/Public-non-faith-based-school-in-Morinville-AB/186801464664262
    You’ll find this issue has been very well researched and pursued by these parents.
    I believe they are expecting an answer from the school board by the end of this month. It will be interesting to see what they respond with.

  • Trevor S

    Angel re: homeschooling

    If a school is publicly funded (i.e., either a ‘standard’ public school such as the Elk Island Public School Board or Catholic public as the case is for GSACRD–or the separate school boards, usually Catholic, sometimes not) must follow the Alberta Program of Studies which means teaching evolution where appropriate as well as human sexuality from grades 4-9 and in CALM 20. Teachers cannot remove or add to the Program of Studies.

    Bill 44 did not change anythign regarding being able to pull students from class parents felt violated their religious, or moral sensibilities. It did change the status of a teacher doing so against the parents will. Bill 44 made that issue a humans right issue, rather than whatever it was before.

    Lastly, there is a new act that concerns Education in the works, being called the Education Act (for now). I wonder if the Protestant language will be removed regarding establishing school districts.

    In regards to the St Alberta Protestant School Board, Christian education is only offered in two schools (in different grades). Edmonton public has the same program in a few schools.

  • Lee

    Hi again everyone,
    Well, the school board came back with an unsurprising answer: NO. “We will not change, we are Catholic, that is who we are, who we have always been, we are not going to change.” Right. That was a good argument for slavery and women’s rights too. Anyway, here are some links to articles about what has transpired. And if you are really passionate about this issue, the parents have started a petition to sign. All they are asking is the option of a public school in their town to send their kids to, not run by a church of any kind. You know, an actual public school education.
    Also, they have started a website if you’re interested:
    Here are a few of the articles that came out after Monday’s decision from the board:

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