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Former education minister supports amalgamation of Alberta’s school boards

An Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015.
An Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. Shallima Maharaj, Global News

A former Alberta education minister says outgoing Edmonton Catholic School Board trustee Patricia Grell is raising important concerns about the separate school system.

In a recent blog post, Grell wrote that she’s not seeking re-election in the upcoming municipal vote because of what she sees as “hatred and bigotry” being promoted at Catholic Schools toward the LGTBQ community.

“You may be wondering if I still believe in the continued existence of Catholic schools,” Grell wrote. “Good question and my answer is no.”

READ MORE: ‘The system is corrupt’: Edmonton trustee calls for merger of public, Catholic school boards

On Sunday, David King told the Alberta Morning News that Grell is sounding an important alarm about the clergy influencing policy in the separate system.

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“One of the problems that Ms. Grell identified is that the ecclesial leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is very much involved in the governance of separate school boards, as though the Roman Catholic Church owns those schools, but of course, they don’t,” King said.

“The separate school system is a civil institution. It’s created by provincial law, not by the church. It’s funded entirely by the provincial government, not by the church.”

Grell also wrote that having two boards was wasting tax dollars by “duplicating facilities and updating such things as the religious education curriculum to the tune of $4.8 million ($368,000 x 13 grades).”

King said all these problems could be addressed by amalgamating the two boards into one. He said it’s been done in Canada twice before.

“In 1997, Quebec did away with separate school education in that province,” King noted. “In the same year, Newfoundland did away with seven denominational school systems and replaced them with a single public school system.”

King said that within the public system, there are already schools with diverse approaches to teaching, whose individual needs are being met.

“It’s a good characterization to say that one size fits all at the school board level. But a big part of that success is precisely that school boards allow a lot of distinctiveness at the local school level, and that could certainly accommodate the interest of Roman Catholics,” King said.

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READ MORE: Continuing coverage of Edmonton's 2017 municipal election

In her four years as an Edmonton Catholic school board trustee, Patricia Grell has been an outspoken supporter of LGTBQ students, and extremely critical of other trustees and board policy.