By Tim Kalinowski on April 22, 2017.
Local school boards are still digesting the decision released by the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatchewan on Thursday, which ruled the provincial government there is in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Saskatchewan Act by funding non-Catholic students who attend Catholic schools.
The judge in the case, Justice Donald Layh, imposed a deadline of June 30, 2018 to cease this funding practice. The decision, if it were to stand, would ultimately force non-Catholic parents to withdraw their children from Catholic schools in the province and enrol them in the nearest public school.
Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education chair Dick Mastel said he understands why some local parents might be concerned about the implications of the case. According to Mastel, there are a “significant number” of non-Catholics who currently attend Catholic schools in the city.
“I suspect they are probably worried. It’s a very significant case, and it can have ramifications here in Alberta. It’s probably the largest case affecting Catholic education we have seen in quite awhile. It is an important case both for Catholic and non-Catholic people,” said Mastel.
However, Mastel felt there was nothing Alberta parents needed to be concerned about at this time.
“At this early stage is we are functioning on the same basis tomorrow as we did yesterday, and we are proceeding on that basis. The decision has no impact on Alberta the present time, but, ultimately, it could (if it goes to the Supreme Court).”
Mastel said he is proud of the education Catholic school boards provide, and believes parents have the right to make a choice on where to enrol their children.
“I think it fair to say there is a question here of freedom of choice,” he said.
SD76 school board chair Rick Massini, on the other hand, applauded the decision by the justice in Saskatchewan to uphold public schools’ rights.
“It seemed to me when the constitution was drawn up the recognition of a separate system was to guarantee to the Catholic faith they would be able to provide a Catholic education for Catholic children,” explained Massini. “When Catholic districts started taking in non-Catholic faith students, you kind of wonder if they are not just then duplicating the public system. If you look at the constitution and the Charter it is quite clear Catholic education is meant for Catholic children.”
Massini said he too anticipated the case would be appealed, and ultimately end up at the Supreme Court of Canada. He expected little change in the status quo in Medicine Hat in the mean time.
PRSD board chair Stuart Angle said his board members and staff were still studying the decision and were not prepared to take public position on the case as yet. He too, however, said he was in favour of upholding public schools’ rights.
“We are a public board, and we believe in public education,” said Angle.
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