MORINVILLE — For the first time in Morinville, families can now opt out of faith-based education for their children.
Morinville's school system is an anomaly in Alberta. The town has four schools, all of which are Catholic.
The Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional School Division is the only school division that serves the community of about 8,000.
"We are a Catholic public school division and we're proud of it. We do a very good job in meeting the needs of students," said Lauri-Ann Turnbull, school board chairman.
In November 2010, a parent delegation requested that public, secular education be made available for their children.
Until now, parents wanting to opt out of the Catholic school system had few options available, such as working out a transportation agreement to send their children to school elsewhere.
Leading the parent delegation was Donna Hunter, who has since left the community. Colleen Moskalyk enrolled her son at a public school in nearby Namao. A few high school students from Morinville enrolled in Namao instead.
Beginning in September, Sturgeon School Division will be the service provider for secular education in the town.
Recognizing parental choice for education and ensuring that the common good is respected through all they do, the Greater St. Albert Catholic Regional School Division has offered accessibility for the secular program.
Modular classrooms will be attached to Georges P. Vanier Elementary School.
"The count at this time is about 55 students," said Turnbull. "Some of those students were already attending Sturgeon schools and were taking a bus to get there, and have decided to come back into town to access the program."
Surveys were conducted earlier this year, which suggested strong support for Catholic education in Morinville.
"It reaffirmed to us we are absolutely going down the right road," she said.
The survey results showed that 37 per cent supported a non-faith based educational choice in Morinville. Only six per cent of the total student population (106 K-12 students) indicated their intent to access a non-faith based program in the coming school year. So school board trustees were reluctant to impact existing programs promised to their students.
"When we have 94 per cent support for the current system in the community, the faith-based programming, it's hard to make drastic changes," said Turnbull.
Programs survive based on the number of registrants. If the demand for secular education is still there in future school years, Turnbull said it's likely the program will continue. If the demand increases, perhaps they will even get their own detached school building.
Some parents want a complete separation from the Christian values and faith-based programming in the schools.
But the schools will still have Christmas concerts, prayer and religious artwork on display in the hallways. Such religious expressions will be visible to students in the secular program if they are to access the bathrooms or gymnasiums within the Catholic schools.
"That's why we will be advocating with Alberta Education to get a stand-alone solution for these parents," said Turnbull.