One superboard for the three streams--Catholic, Public and Francophone.
Paula Simons: Public school board chairperson stirs pot with his Catholic education proposal
Published on: February 10, 2017 | Last Updated: February 10, 2017 6:45 PM MST
Edmonton Public Schools chairperson Michael Janz announces his intent to request the provincial government allow public school districts to offer Catholic programs within the public school system on Feb. 7, 2017. SHAUGHN BUTTS / EDMONTON JOURNAL
Oh, Michael Janz.
You’re a naughty boy.
The chairperson of the Edmonton Public School board engaged in some truly epic trolling this week, when he suggested — with a straight face — that his district could offer Catholic religion classes as an option in public schools.
“We have faith-based Christian programs such as Millwoods Christian or the Logos (Christian faith) Program,” he noted on his blog. “Talmud Torah offers an integrated program of Judaic and secular studies in a Hebrew bilingual setting. Sakinah Circle programming is based on a philosophy of education derived from the Qur’anic (Islam) worldview.”
Given that, he asked, why shouldn’t the board teach Catholic classes too?
Janz wasn’t just making mischief on Twitter — although he certainly did. This is actually something on the school board’s formal agenda for its Feb. 14 meeting, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
Of course, there’s a common-sense answer to Janz’s deliciously disingenuous query. We already have a well-funded and robust parallel Catholic public school system. If Edmonton parents want a free Catholic education for their children, it’s available all across the city. It would be daft to spend more tax dollars on Catholic classes in public schools.
Beyond that, the right to a Catholic school system is enshrined in the Constitution and in the legislation that made Alberta a province. It’s a privilege no other faith enjoys. We’d never set up our school system that way today. But it exists because this region once had a majority Catholic, majority francophone population. When we joined Confederation, protection for francophone Albertans, many of whom were Metis, was enshrine in our founding laws.
Janz knows that perfectly well. But at a time when Edmonton’s Catholic school board is in its own crisis, Janz clearly couldn’t resist the temptation to push a few buttons. And indeed, within days, Janz had gone from asking his naughty little question to asking the much bigger one — do we we still need both a public and Catholic school system?
Our family isn’t Catholic. Our daughter went to elementary and junior high in the public system. But she chose to attend our neighbourhood Catholic high school because it had exactly the academic and arts programs she wanted. Through my daughter, I saw the way the Catholic faith and culture really did permeate every class and every school event, the way Catholic doctrine and philosophy were incorporated right into the fabric of the curriculum and of the school’s extra-curricular activities. For my kid, it was a fascinating cultural exchange — a chance to view the world through a very different perspective than she’d learned at home.
For me, it was eye-opening to see how distinct the Catholic school system actually was. You couldn’t possibly duplicate that degree of immersion in Catholic culture in a public school option.
Forget Janz’s original provocation. Let’s cut to his real question. Do we still need a separate Catholic system, with its own trustees and administrators, in 2017? Could we respect our past and our laws, protecting the rights of all and the diversity of choice our schools offer, while still rationalizing the way we deliver education?
After all, the St. Paul school board manages to run both public and Catholic schools by reserving a certain number of seats on its board for Catholic trustees. Constitutional niceties aside, Edmonton could logically have one board, with Catholic and non-Catholic trustees, to run all the schools, with one group of administrators to oversee them.
But it’s hard to imagine Alberta’s firmly-entrenched Catholic board members would ever willingly surrender their autonomy. It’s even harder to believe Rachel Notley’s government would ever have the stomach, or the political capital, for that fight.
True, Edmonton’s local Catholic board is a hot mess of back-biting civil war. But public boards have failed in the past, too. Just because this particular group of Catholic trustees is in perpetual chaos is not an excuse to shut down Catholic education province-wide.
It is undoubtedly maddening when Catholic and public boards across Alberta routinely refuse to co-operate on things like school construction or busing. How hard would it be, for people elected to serve children and families, to put turf wars aside and collaborate sensibly?
I don’t entirely begrudge Janz his fun. His pot-stirring provoked valuable debate. But really, what we need right now isn’t one school board trying to exploit the weakness of another — it’s boards working in partnership, for the benefit of students and taxpayers alike.