It’s a landmark decision that has far-reaching implications in Saskatchewan and if applied, would force thousands of non-Catholic students to move from the separate Catholic school division to the public school system.
In a 12-year legal battle between the Good Spirit School Division (GSSD) versus Christ the Teacher Catholic Separate School Division (CTTS) and the Saskatchewan government, Justice Donald Layh ruled that the province’s funding of non-Catholics to attend Catholic schools is a “violation of equality rights under the Charter.”
The ruling has garnered lots of criticism from parents with non-Catholic children, currently enrolled in Catholic schools.
Brandi Leniuk of Regina said the family is Christian and wanted their children to attend a faith-based school.
“They’re not Catholic but we choose to put them in because we’re Christian and there’s no Christian school for us.”
Education Minister Don Morgan said parents would be able to keep their kids in Catholic schools if they pay out of pocket, as the province’s per-student funding would no longer apply to non-Catholics.
He estimated that the private costs are in the realm of $10,000 per student.
Parents will also need to prove their child is Catholic by showing a baptismal certificate, provided by a Catholic church.
Morgan said they will review the 240-page ruling thoroughly, and then decide if they file an appeal. They have 30 days to do so.
“I asked the officials within the Ministry of Justice last night to look at what options might be available to us. An appeal is certainly one option,” he said.
In Saskatoon, Shannon Richards has children in the French immersion program in a Catholic school division.
Richards said she was in disbelief when she heard the news.
“It didn’t seem real. I thought in 2017, to be segregating kids based on their religion, like that doesn’t seem right,” Richards said.
“Sure, my kids aren’t Catholic but I feel like anyone should have a right to have a faith based education if they choose.”
Another parent, Lisa Stashko of Regina said the decision to send her children to a Catholic school was not taken lightly and was decided after speaking to multiple people.
“We spoke with our families, RCSD teachers, past students, toured the school and consulted with our Lutheran Pastor when making our decision. To have that decision completely stripped from us is pretty devastating,” she said.
The dispute stems from a complaint made by GSSD, filed in 2005.
The school division alleged that it was unconstitutional for CTTS to receive separate school funding as the Catholic school division was operating a public school.
When it opened, St. Theodore Roman Catholic School had 42 students enrolled but only 13 students, or 31 per cent were Roman Catholic.
That percentage has varied since, from it’s highest — 39 per cent – to its lowest – 23 per cent.
On April 24, the Catholic School Board released the following letter to parents explaining what this means for parents and students: