Catholic students find way to stay at crammed public schools

Some students being turned away from overcrowded schools in southwest Edmonton are finding a way around the rules in order to stay.

Southwest Edmonton schools Esther Starkman and Johnny Bright struggle with overcrowding

Ydamys Gonzalez and daughter Victoria, a Grade 6 student at Johnny Bright School in southwest Edmonton, were told last week Victoria could not attend the overcrowded school next year. (CBC)

Students being turned away from overcrowded schools in southwest Edmonton are finding a way around the rules in order to stay.

Johnny Bright and Esther Starkman Schools were forced to take drastic measures to cope with explosive growth in the city's newest neighbourhoods.

It eliminated Grades 8 and 9, forcing those students to transfer to schools nearly 10 kilometres away. 

It also closed the schools to students living outside the school's attendance, or catchment, areas as well as to students registered on school forms as residents of  Edmonton Catholic Schools jurisdiction.

"Identifying themselves as Catholic means they already have a school district to attend," said public school board spokesperson Jane Sterling.

Originally about 80 students were registered as Catholic at the two schools, but over the last number of days that number has changed.

Now only one student remains registered as Catholic at Esther Starkman and 15 at Johnny Bright.

Last Friday those 16 families received letters from the public school board telling them they cannot return to the schools next fall.

Ydamys Gonzalez, mother of 11-year-old Victoria Gonzalez, called the decision unfair.

"I was shocked on Friday when I received that call," she said. "Because we are Catholic, we are no longer welcome to register next year at the school."

Victoria wrote a letter to her MLA calling the decision "religious discrimination."

Under the School Act, Catholic families are welcome to attend public schools if there is space, but not at the expense of public school students if the school is full, Sterling said.

If parents want to change their registration, it's as easy as calling the school office, Sterling said, adding the school board anticipated many Catholic families might do just that.

The public board is getting some sympathy from the Catholic board, which contemplated a similar move when faced with an overcrowding issue of its own in the past.

In the end the Catholic board found another solution and no student was asked to find another school.

With files from the CBC's Gareth Hampshire