PHOTOS: Edmonton Public School Board Chair Michael Janz. Below: CBC evening drive show host Portia Clark, and the logos of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association and Edmonton Public Schools.

In a brilliantly subversive move, Michael Janz, chair of the Edmonton Public School Board, has publicly wondered in a blog post if the board he leads should set up its own optional Catholic program.

After all, the Edmonton Public School Board has a pretty long and successful record of running faith-based programs under its auspices, Mr. Janz noted mischievously on Monday in the personal blog he publishes online. There’s a Protestant Christian program, a Jewish program and a Muslim program, all operating under the board’s auspices with proper attention to standards and curricula.

“We are proud of our legacy as a district of choice, including our existing excellent faith program choices,” he stated in the blog. “EPSB offers more than 30 alternative programming options.”

So what about it, he wondered … “Is a public school board permitted to open a Catholic Faith Alternative Program?”

Why not indeed? Surely Catholic school boards and church officials in the Edmonton area would agree you just can’t have too much Catholic education … not!

No, in fact, you can count on it that the establishment that runs publicly funded and constitutionally protected Catholic education system in this part of the world was burning up the phone lines yesterday figuring out how to respond as negatively as possible to Mr. Janz’s musings without appearing to suggest Catholic education isn’t a terrific idea.

At any rate, the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association quickly sent out a news release stating: “Catholic schools in Alberta are not just another school system, or substitute offering, but rather are schools with a Catholic-centred view which permeates the whole learning experience.” …

“We believe Catholic religion courses belong in fully permeated Catholic schools,” the release concluded – “fully permeated” in this case meaning Catholic teachings need to be blended into every other topic, be it history, biology, science books, or the French you took.

Mr. Janz disputes that argument, pointing out, first of all, that while Catholic education may be constitutionally recognized in Alberta, nowhere is it written that it must permeate every other topic taught in Catholic schools.

Anyway, he told Portia Clark, the CBC’s evening drive show host, this afternoon, he doesn’t really care what Catholic educators think. His pitch is directed to parents.

Moreover, he argues, not so mischievously, that allowing public schools to offer Catholic programs could save the entire provincial education system billions of dollars – a telling point when Alberta is supposedly broke again, parallel school systems are forced to compete for scarce tax dollars, and Opposition parties are screaming that the NDP Government isn’t trying hard enough to find ways to save the public money.

“One of my goals here is that we can have the conversation about how we build and allocate new schools in new neighbourhoods,” Mr. Janz told a CBC reporter yesterday. Historically, he didn’t need to mention, the Catholic system has been extremely reluctant to even share a gym or a playing field with a public school.

“There are thousands of students who attend Catholic Schools who aren’t Catholic,” Mr. Janz wrote in his blog. “If even a few of them chose to return, that could be a significant influx of students and would be especially valuable in mature communities with lower-enrollment schools. Province-wide, it could be even more significant especially for rural communities with dwindling populations.”

Just think, he wrote, of the “significant cost savings to the Alberta government if public schools could offer a Public and Catholic program under one physical and metaphorical roof.”

His blog’s conclusion: “With the archaic notion of directing one’s taxes to the Public or Catholic school system having no bearing anymore on funding (it’s all pooled and directed based on enrollment) it is time we got creative in finding innovative ways to improve program delivery while demonstrating innovation and efficiency in the use of our education dollars.”

Accordingly, Mr. Janz vowed to file a formal request for information to the Edmonton Public School Board’s administrators at its next meeting, scheduled for the Feast of St. Valentine.

Back when he was first elected in 2010, Mr. Janz noted, he asked the same question and was told “that previous governments and Ministers would not permit Public school boards to create Catholic programs, but puzzlingly they have allowed Catholic districts to offer duplicate programs that are also offered by Public and Francophone school boards.”

While Education Minister David Eggen, contacted by the CBC yesterday, defended the education provided by the Catholic system, he also added, in the words of the broadcaster’s reporter, that “the public board doesn’t need to ask the government’s permission to offer other religious programming, and Catholic programming would be no different.”

The school board officials charged with answering Mr. Janz’s query are bound to be very interested in that, one imagines. What do you want to bet officials of Alberta Education are lined up at the minister’s door at the start of business this morning to explain to him the many reasons it just can’t be done.

Mr. Eggen and the NDP, of course, need to be mindful of the fervour with which advocates of Catholic education have defended their turf historically – and this time that is bound to include advising any government to beware of imitators.

Mr. Janz, though, not so much. After all, at least for the moment, he hardly has to to worry about angry voters who are fierce defenders of exclusive Catholic education, no matter how well organized they are, does he?

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  1. “a Protestant Christian program, a Jewish program and a Muslim program, all operating under the board’s auspices with proper attention to standards and curricula.”

    What do these teach exactly? Is it explained that most of their sacred beliefs are borrowed from previous religions or concocted by committees of preachers, rabbis or imams?

  2. Phase out funding for the Catholic system.
    One school system is most efficient, with multiple religious elective streams.

    Isn’t the the agenda that would protect all faiths, on an equitable basis, in publicly funded education?

    End all public funding of private schools with a religious focus while we’re at it.

    1. Agreed.

      The best way to foster tolerance and acceptance of other races and religions is not to support an education system based on religious apartheid.

      Perhaps, our present arrangement made sense many decades ago, but clearly that is no longer the case.

      I want to see little Catholic kids mixing and forming friendships with Muslims, Protestants and other kids from different faiths.

      Setting the Catholics apart by funding a separate school board is fiscally irresponsible, and it is divisive from a social perspective as well.

      I echo Sam’s suggestion that we should end all public funding to private and religious-based schools.

  3. headline today: It’s Time To Excommunicate Public Catholic Schools

    Janz has company today on Huffpost. They’ve got my support.

    Joshua Ostroff
    Senior Editor, Huffington Post Canada

    It’s Time To Excommunicate Public Catholic Schools

    excerpt: ‘having grown up on the West Coast, where all religious schools are private schools, I cannot fathom why public funding is even still on the table anywhere in Canada.

    When the right of a tax-funded separate Catholic school system was put into the constitution back in 1867, it was a way of protecting the religious, cultural and language rights of the minority French (who were predominantly Catholic) from the majority English (who were predominantly Protestant) at a time when all schooling was church-run.

    We now live in a multicultural country based on equality and yet somehow in three provinces it’s still considered kosher that one religious group gets tax-funded schooling but not Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhist, Hindus, etc. It’s the dictionary definition of privilege. (Quebec, B.C., Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan do offer partial funding for any private school, including religious ones, that meet specific criteria, which is a whole other issue.)

    The United Nations Human Rights Committee actually called us out on this a decade ago for failing to “adopt steps to eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion in the funding of schools in Ontario.”‘

  4. David and Chris make an undeniably practical point. The vehemence with which the Catholic system would oppose any moves that undermine its authority would be breathtaking. However, the separate system does pose dilemmas for efficiency, common sense — and human rights, by the way. I’ve sometimes wondered how the ATA accepts the fact that employment with Catholic school boards requires a kind of faith test — teachers have to ask a priest to testify they are regular attendees at mass.

  5. What a wonderful world it would be if Math could be permeated by Catholic education, right? And science, too, right? And preventing contamination from other faiths by ensuring playgrounds are not shared? Or gymnasiums? Oh, how this story made me laugh! Yes, I thought Michael Janz’s musings were quite clever and I figured they’d be received with horror and outrage and the immediate need for Catholic school trustees to mark their territory. I’m sure, though, that David Eggen and the NDP are smart enough to recognize this is not something in which the provincial government wants to become embroiled; certainly not right now. It’s unfortunate that Albertans have to bear the financial costs of a two-track public education system, but this religious education issue is rife with potentially destructive consequences. It’s not a bear any provincial government would choose to poke, I think.

  6. It would be more sensible to remove religion entirely. Get rid of funding for the Catholic programs and all over programs as well. Education should be secular. Any religion no place in our schools and no place being funded by our tax dollars.

  7. Personally, I think Alberta’s Catholic school system should be privatized. Let them compete for the same grants as other private schools. Catholics shouldn’t receive a disproportionate share compared to Jewish, Muslim, Sikh or other faith based schools. This would also save a lot of taxpayers’ money. In BC where I grew up, the Catholic schools are funded privately and they manage just fine.

    I realize this would require a constitutional amendment. However, as the change would only affect Alberta, it would only need to pass the Alberta legislature and the federal Parliament. Newfoundland used such a constitutional amendment to get rid of their faith based public schools in the 1990s.

    1. Thanks for sharing this story of how it was already been done elsewhere. As per a comment above, some folks are trying to say it’s virtually impossible. Not so, eh?

      And I’m with you 100% on putting the Catholic religion’s adherents on a level playing field with all the other religions that feel it is necessary for indoctrination purposes to put their kids into religious education 6 days a week… Sunday or Saturday plus the 5 school days.

      I don’t think I am an aggressive atheist in practice, but I do wonder why, if any given religious doctrine is so sound and sensible on the face of it, as it’s followers claim, it is not the case that one day a week isn’t sufficient teaching?

  8. Public board already accommodates ‘Christian’ (evangelical?), Muslim and Jewish options, so, why not do the same thing for Catholic schools too? Getting rid of of 2 different boards will reduce duplication of services and save a ton of taxpayers’ money. Hope the NDP is brave enough to take a stand on this.

    1. Well said. Concisely put.
      NDP won’t do it, because their action on climate has generated too much push-back. More than their re-election chances can handle.
      Hell… the PCs were intimidated by the private and religious school advocates including, and especially the religious-leaning home-schooling crowd.

      No way the NDP makes a calculation that it’s worth the risk to open up another front with, IMO, amounts to semi-fundamentalists.

  9. Great comments all. I did not know that NFLD had done the deed. As an ex-pulbic school teacher, I am opposed to funding separate and private schools. Sigh, but I have to agree with the sad reality of electability comments.

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