July 31, 1997
Premier Tobin announces referendum on education reform
Premier Brian Tobin, in a province-wide address on radio and television tonight, announced there will be a referendum on reform Tuesday, September 2, 1997.
The Premier said: "I believe the time has come to end the confusion and chaos that has gripped our education system over the last five years...I believe it's time to recognize that we cannot maintain our commitment to achieving the education reform necessary to shape our future, if we continue to tie that reform to the denominational system of education that shaped our past...In fact, we have in place today in this province, as a result of a court injunction, which was sought and received by the churches, a system of education where the decisions of all of our school boards are subject to the approval or disapproval of two denominational representatives."
Premier Tobin said the time has come to protect the rights of the most important group in education - our children. "I believe it's our children who must be given a full opportunity in 1997 to live together and to learn together. In fact that simple, but yet so desirable, objective cannot be fulfilled if the denominational rights which exist today, continue into the future."
"I believe it's time to hire our teachers because they're competent, caring and committed to our children, not because of their religion. I believe it's time to elect our school board members because they will exercise their best judgement on behalf of all of us, not just on behalf of some of us...The government is prepared to take decisive and swift action to bring about a new education system for our province. I can assure we have the will to act, we have the desire to act, but we require the authority to act."
The government is seeking a mandate from the people to end separation of children, to end the denominational school system, to eliminate Term 17 as it is currently drafted, and to create a new single school system where all children, regardless of their religion, attend the same schools. This new system would include provision for religious education and observances.
The people of the province will be asked a simple, straight-forward question on referendum day, September 2, as follows:
Premier Tobin said: "Let there be no doubt what government is proposing. It means nothing less than the removal of the churches from the governing of the schools. It would mean the existing Term 17, which sets out denominational rights in the constitution, would be completely replaced. A new term, making the legislature responsible for the administration of schools and giving students the opportunity for religious education and observances, will be passed."
Contact: Heidi Bonnell, Office of the Premier, (709) 729-3564, or Carl Cooper, (709) 729-5040.
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
In the five years since the submission of the Report of the Royal Commission on Education "Our Children Our Future", government has been attempting to restructure the education system of the province along the lines recommended in that report. Because certain religious denominations held constitutionally protected rights dating back to the Terms of Union of Newfoundland with Canada in 1949, restructuring could not be carried out without either church consent, constitutional change, or both. To that end, extensive discussions took place with the churches over a period of almost three years beginning in the Fall of 1992. The following is a chronology of the main events since June 1995.
Premier Tobin requested the Prime Minister to proceed with the Term 17 Amendment in accordance with the wishes of the people.
June - July,1996
On December 19, 1996, the House of Assembly passed a new Schools Act and a new Education Act which allowed the province to reduce the number of school districts to 10 and to appoint interdenominational school boards.
On March 10, all school boards were advised of their teacher allocations for the 1997/98 school year.
60 schools, province-wide, were identified for closure at the end of the 1996/97 school year.
All teachers who were to be laid off received layoff notice by May 7, as required by the collective agreement.
May 15, 1997
June 17-20, 1997
July 8, 1997
July 29-30, 1997
Questions and Answers
Will students be required to study courses in Religious Education?
Will there be separate Religious Education courses for each denomination?
Who will develop courses in Religious Education?
Who will teach Religious Education courses?
Will prayers continue to be part of the school program?
Will schools continue to observe Christian festivals such as Christmas and Easter?
Will representatives of the clergy be permitted to visit the school?
Will schools be permitted to establish pastoral care teams for students of individual denominations?
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Q. What kind of schools would you have?
A. There would be only one type of school - one where all children, regardless of their religion, would attend.
There would be no unidenominational schools, no interdenominational schools, no joint service schools, - just schools where children learn and teachers teach.
Q. How would teachers be hired?
A. Teachers would be hired for their ability to teach. No teacher would be hired or fired based on religion.
Q. Who would hire teachers?
A. The School Board would. There would be no role for the churches or denominational committees.
Q. How would School Boards be elected?
A. Anyone over 18 and a Canadian citizen could run for School Boards. There would be no "at large" seats and no "denominational" seats.
Q. Would there be another school registration and designation process?
A. No. There would be no need. Children would no longer be separated by religion - they would all go to school together.
Q. Would religious education be available in schools?
A. Yes, religious education classes and observances such as bible stories, prayers and pageants would be permitted.
Religious education curriculum studies would be available for instruction in schools.