Having grown up in and attended Kindergarten to Grade 12 at schools in the Town of Morinville, it has been interesting to watch the recent media coverage focusing on the town’s lack of real public education. An anomaly in the school system, the public schools in Morinville are also Catholic schools, administered by the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District.
There are a few historical reasons contributing to this situation. Morinville was established by Francophone Roman Catholics (including my ancestors, the Tellier’s) who travelled west from Quebec with Father Morin in the 1890s.
While the town’s history has deep roots in Western Canadian Francophone culture, the 2006 census reported that only 7% of the current population spoke French.
According to information provided by the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District published in recent media reports, only 30 percent of Morinville residents self-identify as Catholic.
When the provincial government overhauled the school board structure in the mid-1990s, Morinville’s Catholic Thibeault School Division was rolled into the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, which then acted as a “Catholic Public” school board. It is my understanding that this “Catholic Public” definition allows the District to appease Section 44(3) of Alberta’s School Act, which states that “every individual is a resident of a public school district or division.” Because of this “Catholic Public” status, all residents of Morinville also contribute taxes to this board and only have the option of elected Catholic School Trustees during municipal elections.
Having been a student in that system for 13 years, I have no complaints about the quality of education I received from the Teachers, who were mostly excellent educators. My personal experience attending these schools makes me keenly aware of how thin the “public” line of the system actually was. I chose not to attend Religion classes in high school, like most of my graduating cohort, yet we still had to start classes with morning and afternoon prayers. A student could avoid some of the more pervasive official religious education inside the classroom, but there was no mistake that the schools themselves existed in a religious environment.
Is there a place for Catholic education in this community? Sure. However, a religious minority of residents should not determine the only type of education available for the majority.
It is important to respect our history, but it should not stop a community from moving forward. It is not unreasonable to expect that the education system reflect the reality of the community of today, rather than the character of the community from 50, 60, or 100 years ago, when Morinville was a predominantly Roman Catholic community. That is simply not the reality in 2011.