Alberta Politics
Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (Photo: Facebook).

Alberta schools are public no more … What gives?

Posted on September 06, 2019, 2:22 am
7 mins

Alberta schools are public no more.

Or something.

A ministerial order signed by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange on Aug. 15 eliminated the word “public” from the legal title of all public school divisions and boards in Alberta.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

What’s going on? That’s not immediately clear, but given Premier Jason Kenney’s promises to support private schools with public funds and his government’s obvious sympathy for private and religious education, the change has raised concerns among public school supporters on social media.

No one seems to have noticed at the time the ministerial order was issued. Nor was there a government news release explaining the change, touting its benefits or even tossing a couple of gratuitous insults at the former NDP government, as is standard United Conservative Party operating procedure.

The language of the order is economical to the point of being sparse. There is no explanation beyond “the name of the following school divisions and their corresponding board of trustees shall be in the following form …” There’s nothing about rationale.

The list of public and separate school divisions named in the ministerial order begins with the Aspen View School Division (formerly the Aspen View Public School Division No. 78) and the Board of Trustees of Aspen View School Division and runs through to the Wolf Creek School Division (formerly Wolf Creek Public Schools) and Board of Trustees of Wolf Creek School Division. At no point does the word “public” appear in the list of names. The words Catholic and Separate do. The changes took effect on Sunday.

Thomas Lukaszuk when he was deputy premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

As for coverage in mainstream media, there doesn’t seem to have been any, unless you count rural Alberta’s St. Paul Journal, which filed a story yesterday about changes to the local school board’s name.

So what gives?

Former Progressive Conservative deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, no admirer of Premier Kenney or the UCP, has commented on the topic on social media, suggesting in a tweet the change was made “in the name of fanatical ideological symbolism to erase the concept of Public Education.”

“Removing the word ‘Public’ from schools boards’ name serves a great purpose,” he said in another tweet. “It created a new reality. It divorces our perception of education from being a public good.”

“If it isn’t ‘public,’ then nothing is ‘private’ in contrast to it. Then they’re all just schools. If you get rid of ‘good,’ it’s harder to define ‘bad,’” he said in another. “Ever read Orwell?”

Edmonton Public Schools Trustee Michael Janz (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Removing the word ‘public’ is insidious,” tweeted Charles Adler, the conservative broadcaster and political commentator who nevertheless is no fan of the UCP, comparing the change in terminology to Newspeak in George Orwell’s 1984.

“I agree,” Edmonton Public Schools (now Edmonton School Division) Trustee Michael Janz told me. “It’s Orwellian doublespeak to clear the way for a voucher system.” He also suggested the change will please Catholic separate school boards “who take umbrage with whenever we say we are public. They like to think they are public too.” (Just ask a fired or not hired gay teacher how public Catholic boards really are!)

St. Albert public education advocate Luke Fevin tweeted: “What’s with Ministerial Order … making all PUBLIC boards drop ‘PUBLIC’ from their names? Is it to make Public schools look less like the main actual & de facto school system? What’s the game? Can anyone at UCP explain?”

In fairness, of course, we don’t know what the government of Alberta has in mind with this change, only that it doesn’t seem to be inclined to volunteer the information.

If you’re concerned about public education and want some clarity on this issue, especially if you live outside the Edmonton Region, it might be a good question to ask your UCP MLA.

Mr. Kenney, an enthusiastic booster of public support for private and religious schools, received much of his education at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Sask., where his late father was president from 1975 to 1992, and at St. Michael’s University School in Victoria, B.C.

Ms. LaGrange is a former trustee, chair and vice-chair of Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools (now the Red Deer Catholic Separate School Division).

NorQuest College president quits

The Edmonton Journal reported last night that Jodi Abbott, president and CEO of Edmonton’s NorQuest College, has resigned.

NorQuest College CEO and President Jodi Abbott (Photo: Twitter).

The Journal’s report noted Dr. Abbott is the sixth president of an Alberta post-secondary institution to announce a departure since the NDP imposed salary and benefit caps on post-secondary presidents that were supposed to take effect in 2020.

It’s possible, however, such senior education executives may benefit from the recent MacKinnon Report’s recommendation the freeze on public sector bosses’ salaries come off while rank and file front line workers bear the brunt of the UCP’s austerity program.

On the other hand, thanks to hints dropped in the same report, now might be a prudent time for executives of smaller public post-secondary institutions to head for the exit.

12 Comments to: Alberta schools are public no more … What gives?

  1. Bill Malcolm

    September 6th, 2019

    Well, this is what living in a nightmare must be like for anyone with some knowledge of history. Takeover of civil society by ideological nutballs with the majority of voters apparently clapping in approval like trained seals. They can have it. For those who are somewhat more aware, about all that can be done is to chronicle the total horse manure as it unfolds, while avoiding being drawn into group think, forcibly or otherwise.

    Reply
  2. Hana Razga

    September 6th, 2019

    Is Alberta on the way to become dystopian?

    Dystopia: A futuristic, imagined universe in which oppressive societal control and the illusion of a perfect society are maintained through corporate, bureaucratic, technological, moral, or totalitarian control.

    Reply
  3. Kim Armstrong

    September 6th, 2019

    Great questions David – Just finished Handmaids Tale – I suggest the climate in Alberta is not only Orwellian but Attwoodish to boot!
    FYI you missed one of MLG’s past appointments -https://www.acsta.ab.ca/images/pdfs/annual-report/2016_ACSTA_Annual_Report.pdf

    Reply
  4. Dave

    September 6th, 2019

    Well I suppose this goes to show the UCP and Kenney haven’t been described as petty for no reason. I wonder if someone a bit more astute politically in the UCP caught wind of this before it happened and knew it wouldn’t look good, as it was done so stealthily. Of course, it still happened, which is testament to the UCP’s stuborn and rigid ideological view of the world.

    I hope this will not mean that public schools (yes, they are still public and you and I can still say that even if it has been now deleted from the Orwellian language of this particular government) will be required to spend a bunch of money now on redoing letterhead, business cards, websites, etc… That would not be a good idea in this time of supposed “restraint”, so hopefully not.

    However I think Mr. Lukaszuk, who has plenty of experience in how government and politics actually works, is probably right about this. The UCP is trying to blur, diminish, undermine or erase the concept of public education. I don’t know if it will be so easy to undermine, through just a name change, but I think it shows how the UCP regards it and in what direction they would like to take us, or perhaps I could say force us to go in.

    Personally, I don’t have problems with religious or non public schools. The real issues I think are how much, if any public money, should be put into them and expectations that they need to follow a public curriculum/abide by human rights laws to get public funding. However, if the UCP gets rid of the term public schools, then what do they call separate schools? Does that term also go by the wayside? I suppose they are commonly referred to as Catholic schools and that is in their name, so perhaps rather than using the terms public and separate, we will start using the terms secular and religious schools.

    I don’t know if that would be what the UCP ultimately wants. I suspect they are trying to pave the way for more private (including non religious) schools, where parents pay a hefty amount to supposedly get a better education for their kids and keep the poor riff raff out, fewer restrictions on both those schools and on the religious denominational schools. I expect that would include not requiring GSA’s, less rigid curriculum requirements and trying to facilitate some way for the religious schools to try get around having or keeping staff that might be LGBTQ. Alberta welcome back to the 1990s!

    Reply
  5. Owen Clark

    September 6th, 2019

    I wonder if the underlying idea is to be able to use ‘public’ school funds to support Private/Catholic schools with less transparency. Get people used to public funds being spent in the Wolf Creek School Division, and they may not question when those same funds get used for a Private or Catholic school later on, as the (apparent) separation of the school divisions gets blurred.

    Reply
  6. Farmer Dave

    September 7th, 2019

    This is outrageous, public verses private schools. Education should be standard across Canada in a public system and leave the religion out. However, every school should be able to set aside a portion of a day during the week for religious studies for those who want it and the rest of the time should be for a public school education for all. All we need to do is look at the Humboldt Bus Crash were the driver of the semi-trailer received two weeks of private education training and then passed his test. CBC showed that a truck driver from Saskatchewan needed only 16 hours of training to pass his test and he couldn’t do most things required to operate the truck when he was challenged. And now Kenney wants to privatise our schools. That’s an insult and was never an election issue that he brought up.

    Reply
  7. Fritz Kropfreiter

    September 7th, 2019

    The inclusion of Catholic schools in this discussion is not helpful. Having spent my career in the Catholic system and having served in various capacities with our Local of the ATA, I take umbrage at any slight of what is, for all intents and purposes, Alberta’s ‘other’ public system. Divide and conquer is a well known strategy of the ruling elites and to allow ourselves to fall into bickering over old prejudices and intolerance is to lose sight of the real threat: private schools.

    Reply
    • St Albertan

      September 8th, 2019

      Fritz; while I agree that buying into the obvious divisionary logic of UCP political theory is a mistake, I believe you’re glossing over a very important fact. The Catholic school system was and is a “separate” public option via our tax system. It is an unsustainable anachronism designed as an educational apartheid if you will. The most sensible approach would be to remove all religions from tax supported education and healthcare. Tax breaks for exclusionary charter schools and healthcare? Yes, given proven delivery of public funded curriculum and service delivery. Full tax funding for religious or other types of private charter schools and healthcare? Absolutely the wrong way to go.

      Reply
  8. Jim

    September 7th, 2019

    Kenney’s rule of Alberta, and all decisions made, should be viewed on the basis of who he is funneling public funds to. Perhaps with this one it is just a matter of rewarding a few select printing companies, a lot of letterhead will need to be reprinted. Maybe they threw some cash his way at some point? Pure speculation and I fear there are more sinister motives than just rewarding printers. More likely it will be a better means to funnel public funds to his private school backers, ironically even though it is your tax dollars going to private services the majority of Albertans can’t afford to access these services.
    The other question to ask is how does this decision enable the Catholics to maintain their bureaucracy? The education minister and Kenney for all their efforts to destroy truly public education surely wouldn’t touch the money going to the Catholics? It always comes down to money and moving as much into private hands as possible.

    Reply
  9. Bob Raynard

    September 8th, 2019

    How much will this change cost? People have mentioned printing new letterhead, but there is also the cost of hiring a graphic designer to re-draw the logo, as well as the considerably higher cost of repainting the logos on the truck doors. I expect there are a lot of other things that we haven’t even thought of. This change could be done at considerably less cost if the boards were instructed to introduce the new logo when they run out of letterhead or replace a vehicle, but I don’t really see that happening.

    Meanwhile, what are those common sense guys on the rural school boards, who probably supported the UCP, thinking about this?

    Reply
  10. Chris

    September 8th, 2019

    The Journal published a story on this by Janet French on Friday, I believe: https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/striking-public-from-school-divisions-legal-names-riles-school-trustees

    Apparently the name changes were mandated in the Education Act, to clean an alleged mess of different names that had some legal consequences. And it was all brushed aside by a govt spokesperson as administrative, no big deal, nothing to see here. Actually, they said it was to standardize names across the province, but then said no board (oops! District) ad to change their branding, and all boards could continue to promote public. If that’s the case, why bother standardizing the names?

    Something smells here, and nothing good will come of it. I’m surprised the UCP, knowing they don’t have the highest level of trust in this area, didn’t provide a robust rationale. Did they think nobody would notice?

    Also – the ministerial order was signed August 15 but I don’t think it was made public (posted on the Queens Printer site) until late last week, making the radio silence even more mysterious.

    Reply
  11. Tammy

    September 11th, 2019

    The government in Australia went there and it isn’t good. 70% of government funding goes to private schools which only teach 30% of the student population. With Kenny saying that a school is a school… where do you think we are headed? With Kenny wanting to base funding on provincial exam scores the gap between the rich and the poor will only be exasperated. Instead of adopting policies that have proven to make things worse in other countries maybe we should start looking to better examples and adopt those?
    http://www.aeufederal.org.au/…/med…/2018/november/221118

    Reply

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