By Kalinowski, Tim on November 20, 2018.
Four southern Alberta schools and school districts are among the 28 listed for possible de-funding by the province for their non-compliance with Bill 24, which makes it mandatory for schools to allow Gay-Straight Alliance groups on campus and protect the confidentiality of the students who join.
40-Mile Christian Education Society, based in Bow Island, the Evangelical Free Church of Champion, the Coaldale Canadian Reformed School Society and Calvin Christian School Society of the Netherlands Reformed Congregations in Coalhurst are among those noted by provincial education minister David Eggen.
Principal Marc Slingerland of Calvin Christian School told the Herald he is disappointed by Eggen’s threats.
“We have now received this ultimatum from the minister by way of a Ministerial Order,” confirmed Slingerland, “and our board has not yet met so they will be looking at that at their next meeting and deciding how to respond.
“There is a court action ongoing. The next step in that will be Dec. 3. There will be a hearing in Calgary at the Alberta Court of Appeal, and there is no deadline in the ministerial order. The minister’s comments have indicated that by the end of this school year, we need to have taken certain actions. So we are not jumping into anything hastily, but we will certainly be looking at how to respond.”
Eggen, in a statement released by his office on Monday, said he is disappointed the schools singled out last week, including Calvin Christian School, remain non-compliant with Bill 24, despite having been given a good deal of time to do what the legislation requires.
“Our government is proud of the work we have done together to ensure that all students are able to learn in safe and caring environments,” the statement reads. “Accredited funded private-school authorities in Alberta receive thousands of dollars per student in public funding, and all school authorities that receive public funding must follow the law.
“Most school authorities have done a great job to ensure their policies and practices meet the legislated requirements and many of those policies are informed by the faith perspective of the school. We have been clear throughout this process that schools that receive public funding must obey the law.
“It is my expectation that school authorities comply with the Ministerial Order. If school authorities choose to remain non-compliant, they are putting their public funding at risk. I will do whatever it takes to protect students.”
Slingerland said he rejects the premise that faith-based schools are somehow “unsafe” for any of the kids which attend them.
“It’s unfortunate it has come to this,” he said. “We share with Alberta Education a desire to educate Alberta students in a safe and caring environment. Our results, which Alberta Education has, show we have done that successfully for nearly 40 years now. It is unfortunate the minister has chosen to pursue this course.”
When asked why these 28 schools continue to hold out when hundreds of other schools in the province, many faith-based, are compliant and have reported no issues with kids in GSAs in their schools, Jay Cameron, litigation manager for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom which is representing the schools in legal matters pertaining to Bill 24, said there is a higher principle at stake.
“It is still early days with regards to the legislation,” stated Cameron, “and the fact they (other schools) have complied with it doesn’t mean they were right to do so … Schools have broader legal rights than what is just in the School Act. And, unfortunately, they haven’t obtained much traction discussing those other legal rights with the Minister of Education.
“The minister is focused on what the Bill 24 amendments to the School Act do, but he is not focused on what the case law says about religious rights and parental rights.”
Cameron was also asked about the fact faith-based schools in other provinces are not typically funded with public money, and therefore are not answerable to those provincial governments with respect to policies which go against their religious beliefs.
The problem in Alberta isn’t the fact religious and independent schools receive public money, replied Cameron, but the fact the Government of Alberta is overreaching with its legislation in this case by using threats of de-funding to impose its own belief system on those whose views differ from its own.
“There is nothing neutral about what the government is doing here,” Cameron said. “They are targeting a particular demographic because it does not fall into line with the government’s own perspective … The public is diverse, and these schools are serving part of the public need, and the people using these schools are taxpayers. The religious parents out there are taxpayers, too.”
The Herald also reached out to the Coaldale Canadian Reformed School Society and the 40-Mile Christian Education Society to get comment for this story, but neither society got back to us prior to press time Monday.
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