Minister pledges full government support of Catholic education in Alberta

By Andrew Ehrkamp
News Editor

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen offered full and vocal support for Catholic education on the weekend, but he wasn't able to give trustees any detailed reassurances about content in the upcoming provincial curriculum on human sexuality education.

"As we develop the new health and wellness sexuality curriculum, we will work with all schools − including Catholic schools − to ensure we are meeting the safety standards for individuals and for our society as a whole," said Eggen, commenting at the annual meeting of Alberta Catholic school trustees in Edmonton.

"I know that all of us, including Catholic schools, have the health and welfare of students at their very heart. We'll work through it. I'm very confident that all of my friends here today will help us achieve that goal."

Addressing trustees from across the province, Eggen offered his government’s commitment in no uncertain terms: “You have my full support of as minister of education and the government of Alberta and Premier Rachel Notley to ensure the integrity of Catholic education in this province, to ensure the strength of faith-based education in this province of Alberta, and to ensure that it is fully funded through all forms of our government.”

His comments came just a day after Most Rev. Fred Henry, the Bishop Emeritus of Calgary, addressed the same meeting over concerns about the human sexuality curriculum currently being revised and the future of Catholic education in Alberta.

In response, Eggen said, “those naysayers shouldn't be construed as being what we feel as a government, which is to support choice in education, which includes strong Catholic education."

“We're working closely with Catholic school boards. You saw the response in the room here today. They recognize our sincerity to move forward and ensure the integrity of Catholic education every step of the way.”

Eggen’s statements followed a media firestorm last month after publication of a working document by Catholic superintendents that identified for government officials possible areas of concern in the human sexuality part of the health and wellness curriculum.

The superintendents said their input was meant to ensure the new curriculum is not so restrictive that it would prevent Catholic schools from including relevant Church teachings alongside the provincial curriculum.

For example, they would teach the curriculum content on contraceptives and abortion, but also teach why the Church opposes these measures. They would teach about different sexual orientations, but also teach the Catholic view of marriage as a sacramental bond between a man and woman. They would teach that consent is “always necessary” in a healthy sexual relationship, and that there are also other factors to consider in sexual decision-making.

In media interviews, Eggen called the document “unacceptable,” and Premier Rachel Notley pledged that such ideas that “attack or hurt others” would never be taught. 

"We will continue to be able to teach the approved curriculum in all aspects, including health and wellness,
and will also be able to supplement it with Catholic resources.”  -- ACSTA president

Adriana LaGrange, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association, stressed that Catholic schools teach the full provincial curriculum in all subjects, but supplement it with a Catholic perspective, and she expects that to continue.

"We will continue to be able to teach the approved curriculum in all aspects, including health and wellness, and will also be able to supplement it with Catholic resources,” LaGrange said.

The ACSTA continues to meet with Eggen and provincial education officials as they design the new curriculum, she said. Asked about potential conflict between the new human sexuality curriculum and Catholic teaching, LaGrange said those details still being worked out.

"We are not making any pre-suppositions about what will be in the curriculum. We look at what comes as it comes, and we will supplement it with our Catholic resources," she said. "We always look at our programming through our Catholic worldview."

Minister Eggen said he doesn’t anticipate any conflict, but he expects all school boards to continue to teach the provincial curriculum regardless.

"I've had no problems with any of my schools, mostly, and that expectation remains the same,” he said, adding “Catholic schools have been doing a good job to make sure they do teach to the curriculum, and everybody is compelled to do so.”

Trustees have also raised concerns about Bill 24, which would prohibit school authorities from notifying parents of their child’s involvement in a gay-straight alliance or related activities. The bill passed third and final reading this week, despite objections raised by parents, superintendents, and trustees.

The bill is expected to become law in April, and LaGrange said the ACSTA plans to work with the provincial government on implementing it.

"We haven't always seen eye to eye, but we can agree on our common goals of providing the best possible education in a welcoming, caring and safe environment for all our children, for all our students," LaGrange said.

"I believe there's always a need to be vigilant and to look at any concerns that people raise very thoughtfully. But our publicly funded Catholic education system in Alberta has been here for 170 years, and we're confident that we'll be around for another 170 years."

Eggen said the province is committed to growth, and noted that government opened a record 53 new schools, public and Catholic, this fall.

Related stories:

Catholic school administrators hope to work with Bill 24, but expect complications

Sex ed should be much more than technical instructions: Bishop Henry to trustees