July 21st, 2018

GSAs, petitions, elections, renos and much more: Education stories in 2017

By Tim Kalinowski on January 3, 2018.

A single rose marked the now vacant place of PRSD trustee Kathy Cooper, who passed away from cancer on Aug. 29, at September's public board meeting. --NEWS FILE PHOTO


1. The Theodore Case verdict

The Theodore Case verdict delivered in April by the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatchewan after 10 years of legal argument stated, according to the judge’s interpretation of Saskatchewan constitutional law and the Sask. Education Act, that non-Catholic students had no right to receive public education funding if they choose to attend Catholic schools. The case was immediately subject to appeal at the Sask. Court of Appeals, but the ruling opened the door to an ongoing local debate between Rick Massini, vice-president of Public School Board Association at the time, and Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education representatives. Alberta and Saskatchewan currently have parallel funding systems and similar constitutional provisions when it comes to public education. Public debate has only intensified over the course of the year, and was a central issue during Catholic board elections in October.

2. Petition rejected

After a nearly year-long fight, SD76’s board of trustees rejected for a final time in July a “Concerned Parents of SD76” petition, which sought to repeal or review the board’s Policy 622 on “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.” Policy 622 established the right for local students to form confidential Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs in schools. The year started out with a court battle between SD76 and Concerned Parents over the group’s petition, wherein the Court of Queen’s Bench sided with the school division in its interpretation of its insufficiency brought forward at the end of 2016. After the court case a series of back and forths took place as Concerned Parents tried to meet the court’s concerns only to have its petition deemed insufficient and rejected three more times by SD76. During this period, the board also tweaked the wording of Policy 622 to allow educators, without coercion, to speak with students to consider approaching their parents if they are struggling with questions of gender or sexual identity.

3. School openings and renovations

New school openings and major renovations dominated our education coverage for much of the year. Here is the complete list:

-The Medicine Hat Roman Catholic Separate School District No. 21 had substantial renovations completed at Monsignor McCoy High School, and its newly-built St. John Paul II Elementary School will have full classes starting in the fall 2018 semester.

-SD76’s Hat High had substantial renovations completed in 2017, and the division’s new Dr. Ken Sauer School opened in time to start the 2017 fall semester.

-Prairie Rose School Division welcomed students at its brand new Schuler School building to start the 2017/2018 school year.

-CAPE Public Charter School was excited to see renovations start on the former north wing of Medicine Hat High School, which is being repurposed to house CAPE starting in the fall of 2018.

-The Conseil scolaire FrancoSud (Southern Francophone Education Region) was also excited to hear it would be getting a new school to replace ƒcole les Cyprs in Medicine Hat sometime in the next four years.

4. Notley vs. Kenney

Premier Rachel Notley and newly-elected United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney clashed over the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances and parental rights in schools. GSAs have been criticized by some as allowing schools to override parental authority by not disclosing when kids join.

During his leadership campaign Kenney seemed to agree when he said, “I think generally speaking, parents have a right to know what their kids are doing in school. (Only )if there’s evidence that the parents are abusive, then they shouldn’t be involved.”

Premier Notley responded by stating: “It’s super-cruel, it’s super-extreme and it’s super backwards. I will not ever, ever, ever let them out gay kids.” Notley’s government then moved to table Bill 24 which explicitly forbid schools from disclosing when students join GSAs to parents without the students’ consent. Kenney said the UCP would not support Bill 24, but would not want kids outed to parents if there was any prospect of harm. Kenney endorsed the position that teachers could make the call to inform or not inform at their own discretion.

5. MHC receives over $4-million in infrastructure funding

Medicine Hat College received $4.3-million in provincial government grants for infrastructure funding in March’s provincial budget. The money was to be spent on the college’s East Campus for upgrades to MHC’s gym, and for creating a new accessible elevator going down to the gym. The remainder would go toward sanitary and sewer upgrades for the facility. Advanced Education minister Marlin Schmidt stopped by Medicine Hat College in March to make the formal announcement.

6. Premier Notley visits Medicine Hat College

In February Premier Rachel Notley made her first visit to Medicine Hat since being elected. The major component of her visit was a tour of Medicine Hat College, where she also announced $350,000 in funding over two years for the college’s APEX Incubator to help foster greater entrepreneurship in the region. The premier’s visit was warmly received by college staff and students.

7. School Board Elections

While most local boards returned a great number of incumbents, Medicine Hat Public School Division No. 76 trustees had a lot more at stake during this year’s election as the year-long fight against local group “Concerned Parents of SD76” came to a definitive showdown when Concerned Parents founder Jeremy Williamson put his name forward during the election.

Williamson was seeking to unseat one of the five incumbents to push his group’s agenda forward at the board level. Instead, four out five incumbents were re-elected. Celina Symmonds, who beat out incumbent Terry Reilly for the final seat, was also a supporter of Policy 622.

At the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education incumbent Regina Durst was defeated and a newly-added fifth trustee seat filled by newcomers Kathy Glasgo and former MHCBE superintendent David Leahy.

At Prairie Rose School Division Redcliff-Ralston-Jenner ward incumbents Pam Cursons and Arnold Frank retained their seats in the division’s only contested election.

8. Cathy Hogg elected as PSBA president

Second-term, Prairie Rose School Division Ward 2 trustee Cathy Hogg was elected president of the Public School Boards’ Association of Alberta in Nov. 2017. Hogg is the first person from the Medicine Hat region elected to serve as president. Both she and SD76 board chair Rick Massini had served as vice-presidents of the PSBA the previous term. Hogg will act as president for the next two years at least.

9. Sudden passing of PRSD trustee Kathy Cooper

Longtime Prairie Rose School Division Ward 6 trustee Kathy Cooper passed away in August from cancer, shocking many. Although her closest associates knew Cooper was ill, she had never publicly disclosed her illness as she underwent treatment. She continued to serve effectively as the trustee for her ward despite this private battle. She had planned to serve out her full term in office until the Oct. 16 municipal election, and then step down. Sadly, she never made it that far. The PRSD board held a moving tribute to Cooper at their first meeting of the fall to remember a great colleague and friend.

10. Province’s fight with homeschoolers comes to an end

Nearly 3,500 homeschoolers in late 2016 were left in the lurch after Alberta Education abruptly cut off accreditation authority and funding to the Trinity Christian School Association when it was revealed the lion’s share of government grants the association received was being turned over to sub-contractor WISDOM Homeschooling, an organization the government felt was improperly disbursing over two-million of those funds to its senior administration team.

Deemed heavy-handed by some, the government move sparked a backlash from the larger homeschooling community in Alberta and an immediate court challenge. The matter was finally settled in January after a new deal between the government and Trinity was reached.

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