Retiring school trustee Patricia Grell (Edmonton Separate) has written a heartfelt and provocative letter describing her disenchantment with the experience of being a Roman Catholic separate school trustee. Ms. Grell is a committed, well-educated and well-informed person of the Roman Catholic faith. She also has current, relevant and extensive experience. All of this makes her open letter well worth reading, by all Albertans with an interest in excellent education for all students.
Basically, Ms. Grell speaks to three vitally important issues...
A school district is not a corporation: it is a polity -- a political jurisdiction. The role of a school trustee is, as the name suggests, to act as a trustee of the voters' interests. The role of a school trustee is not like the role of a corporate director. Simply put, a corporation has a legal existence independent of shareholders, and the role of a corporate director is to advance the interests of the organization, the executive staff and the largest shareholders, regardless of all the interests of other shareholders, except the interest to make money. (For this reason, directors are often recruited by the executive staff of the corporation, or by the largest shareholder[s].)
Quite unlike a corporation, a trust exists to embody the interests of the people who are the beneficiaries of the trust -- in the case of a political jurisdiction, the voters (and their children). The trustees (and their staff) are obliged to put their own interests well behind the interests of the voters.
For a separate school jurisdiction, the trust obligations are to the Roman Catholic electors, not to the ecclesial leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and not to the system's administrators.
To reinforce this, separate school education is a civil institution: it is not an institution of the Roman Catholic Church. Separate school jurisdictions are created according to Alberta law, not Church law. Trustees are elected according to the Local Authority Elections Act, and they are legally and otherwise accountable to their electors and the people of Alberta (represented by the Minister of Education). They are not legally, financially, operationally, or morally accountable to a bishop.
In light of this, separate schools are not "Catholic" according to the terms of Canon Law 803 ("Can. 803 §1. A Catholic school is understood as one which a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical juridic person directs or which ecclesiastical authority recognizes as such through a written document.") A separate school is not "one which a competent ecclesiastical authority or a public ecclesiastical jurdic person directs".
Any assertion by an ecclesial authority (such as a Bishop) that a separate school is a Catholic school, subject to direction by a competent ecclesiastical authority, invites -- even demands -- the Minister of Education to assert the civil independence of separate school jurisdictions. Without in any way compromising the continued existence of separate school education in the province, Minister Eggen should make a clear assertion that separate school jurisdictions are civil authorities, not Church-owned or directed. Separate schools are not Catholic schools within the meaning of Canon Law #803. Such a simple and direct statement would cut through all the uncertainty about whether the Minister can require openness to transgender students (for example). Such a simple and direct statement would undercut the ecclesiastical interference that results in students being denied vaccination, or duplication of facilities, and more.
Trustee Grell has come to the conclusion -- from 'inside the tent' as it were -- that the student experience in a separate school is the same as in a comparable public school, and that outcomes are the same, taking socio-economic differences into account.
She point out that the cost of duplicate administration is more than $61M/year and she also makes reference to the opportunity costs of duplication (the inability to construct one world class facility in a community when a church demands two separate facilities -- and the provincial government accedes to an unwarranted demand). She also makes reference to the 'tension' costs associated with fragmentation in local communities.
"ourIDEA" (our Inclusive, Diverse, Education for All) favours the amalgamation of public and separate school jurisdictions throughout the province. That said, Ms. Grell's letter reveals a painful experience and points to a significant remedial step that Minister of Education David Eggen should take -- a step that would eliminate much uncertainty and clear the way forward for separate school boards, without calling the reality of separate school education into question. Minister Eggen should immediately make a clear statement that separate school education is a civil institution, not subject to Canon Law #803. Without addressing the thorny issue of a formal Church-State relationship, he would put great distance between the Church and the State, for the benefit of education, health care, social services, and other situations in which a Church finds itself at odds with significant public policy.
Our thanks to Ms. Grell