Name change no big deal, say school divisions

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

The names of school divisions across the province have been changed by the new United Conservative Party government.

The changes were made by a Ministerial Order issued Aug. 15, and came into effect on Sept. 1 as part of the newly proclaimed Education Act.

However, local school divisions say the change won’t affect them much.

The word “public” was removed from eight of 41 public school divisions, including Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Grande Yellowhead, Buffalo Trail, St. Albert, Aspen View, and Elk Island.

Numbers were also removed from school board names, affecting local divisions including the newly-renamed High Prairie School Division, Peace River School Division, Northern Gateway School Division, and Northland School Division.

Catholic school names across the province largely stayed the same; however, the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division was renamed to become the Holy Family Catholic Separate School Division.

In a public statement, the newly renamed Holy Family Catholic Separate School Division wrote, “We will continue to operate as the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division. Our website, e-mail addresses, logo, signage, etc will all remain the same. Only legal documents will change.”

In an e-mailed response, the Peace River School Division wrote, “This has been discussed with the superintendent and the board chair, and it will have a very limited impact on Peace River School Division as we do not have ‘Public’ in our name and No. 10 has not been included on our letterhead.”

Since no explanation for the change was given at first, some speculated the removal of the word public was an ideological one showing Premier Jason Kenney’s preference for private schools and homeschooling over public schools. Former Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk implied this was the case in his social media posts.

The speculation has been further stoked by fears around potential cuts to funding for public schools. With no firm provincial budget coming until October, and the report of the Blue Ribbon panel already recommending fiscal restraint, schools have had to estimate their upcoming provincial funding while budgeting for the 2019 school year.

On Sept. 5 the superintendents of all the school boards in the province received an e-mail from Deputy Minister of Education Curtis Clarke confirming that all school boards have been changed to school “divisions” as of Sept. 1. South Peace News has obtained a copy of the letter.

“Before this consistency was introduced, different jurisdictions had different rights depending on whether they were districts, divisions, or regional divisions. As divisions, now all jurisdictions can operate under a level playing field,” Clarke wrote.

In response to questions from across the province about whether this meant changing all of the branding on items such as letterhead and signs, Clarke also clarified in the e-mail that school divisions can continue to use whatever name they choose for their branding and won’t have to change their signs. The legal name change will still affect banking information and contracts which will need to be updated.

“The previous system under the old School Act allowed for unequal treatment of school divisions. Previously, there was a patchwork of different types of school divisions with different powers. With the Education Act, we are creating a level playing field,” Education Minister Adriana LaGrange wrote in a post shared on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“To insinuate that these changes are an attack on public education is simply an attempt to cause unnecessary fear and stress in Alberta’s education system,” LaGrange wrote.

“I can assure all Albertans that our government fully supports the longstanding and successful tradition of pluralism in Alberta’s education system — including strong and viable public schools.”

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