PACE petitions to save Catholic school divisions

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Parents of children in Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools are giving their support to ensure separate school systems continue to thrive in Alberta.

Approximately 80 people attended a Parents Advocating for Catholic Education (PACE) information session on Jan. 23 at Good Shepherd School. As well, 356 people had signed a PACE on-line petition as of Jan. 29 to be sent to Alberta Education Minister David Eggen and Premier Rachel Notley entitled “Maintain policies and laws that protects my rights to a Catholic School Education system.”

PACE spokeswoman Shari Gustafson said the petition is to ensure parents who are concerned about the future of publicly-funded Catholic education are heard.

“We decided it was important to bring a voice to this growing body of families who purposely choose Catholic education for their children,” Gustafson said. “To make those around us in Alberta know how important it is to us and to our families that policies and laws that protect our rights to Catholic education are maintained.”

Publicly-funded Catholic education is protected in Alberta both federally and provincially. However, that is not to say it couldn’t be abolished – at present Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario are the only provinces with publicly-funded Catholic school systems.

“We are seeing some advocacy for one publicly-funded school system (in Alberta),” Gustafson said. “We recognize that religion programs can be offered from a publicly-funded school system.

“Catholic education is not a program, it is a way of living where gospel values are infused into every minute to every day, changing our children’s beings because of the daily encounters they have with Christ’s love.”

One of the advocates for creating a single public system and doing away with publicly-funded Catholic education in Alberta is Inclusive Diverse Education for All (IDEA), started by David King, a former provincial education minister in the early 1980s. King wrote a public letter in October recommending Notley hold a referendum on the issue in the future (King’s address on the letter is from Victoria, B.C.).

Kenn Bur, an advocate for IDEA, said the organization is not against Catholic education but does not support publicly-funded Catholic education.

Bur said there is outrage from both Catholic and non-Catholics in Alberta with the “abhorrent waste of tax money with a duplicate publicly-funded Catholic school system — that is the issue.”

He said Albertans could save hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating the Catholic system.

“We would no longer be building public infrastructure often in Alberta side-by-side, we’re not hiring duplicate administrators,” Bur said. “We would be building schools based on demographic reasons rather than on religious reasons.”

Bur issued a press release in late January stating Edmonton Public Schools trustee Nathan Ip supports one public system. The release also stated Dianne Macaulay, a Red Deer Public Schools District trustee, has also advocated for having one public school system. IDEA has posted an online petition in support of a referendum for one-public system.

Alberta Education Minister Eggen, said the government supports publicly-funded Catholic education.

“Our government is committed to ensuring all Alberta students receive a high-quality education,” Eggen said in a prepared statement for the Western Wheel. “We offer and support a variety of education opportunities, including separate or Catholic schools.

“Alberta’s Catholic community makes an enormous contribution to our province, and the Catholic education system has been preparing students for success in this province for over a century. Our government will continue to ensure to work with school boards to make life better for Albertans and prepare students for success in a fast-changing world.

“Separate school authorities have been performing these duties admirably, and we see no reason why they should have any issue doing so in the future.”

Gustafson added response at the meeting on Jan. 23, to which the media was not invited, was enthusiastic.

“We were very excited about the response and the enthusiasm we received from parents,” Gustafson said. “We had wonderful discussion about why they chose Catholic education and why it is important to them — great to see that many people engaged.”

PACE had previously held a meeting in January in Strathmore. Another meeting for PACE is scheduled in High River in March.

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