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Minister says ruling means thousands of non-Catholics must change schools

SASKATOON — Saskatchewan's education minister says a court ruling about funding for Catholic schools means thousands of students will need to move to the public system.

Don Morgan was reacting to Justice Donald Layh's decision on Thursday that the province doesn't have the legal right to provide Catholic schools funding for students who aren't Catholic.

Layh ruled that under the Charter of Rights, provincial government funding for non-minority faith students attending separate schools is a violation of equality rights.

Morgan says the government has asked its officials to review the logistics of a mass transfer of students from Catholic to public schools.

Layh said his judgment won't have to be enforced until June 30 of next year.

Morgan says if the decision stands, students will have to provide an official document stating their Catholic background.

"If the decision is applied a student would have to have a baptismal certificate from the Catholic church if they're going to stay in the Catholic school system, or be funded in the Catholic school system," Morgan said in Saskatoon on Friday.

The dispute involved the public Good Spirit School Division, the Christ the Teacher Catholic Separate School Division and the provincial government.

In 2004, Yorkdale School Division, now Good Spirit School Division, closed down its kindergarten-to-Grade 8 school in the town of Theodore because of declining enrolment. The division planned to bus students to the community of Springside, 30 kilometres away.

In response, a local group created its own Catholic school division and opened St. Theodore Roman Catholic School. That prompted Good Spirit School Division to file a lawsuit claiming the creation of the new school division was not to serve Catholics in the community, but to prevent students from being bused to a neighbouring town.

Morgan said the government wants to be able to support students in the province no matter what school system they are in.

Tom Fortosky, a spokesman for the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association, said there was limited appetite to continue paying to fight the case, given that it's already been 12 years in the courts.

In a statement released after Layh's decision, he didn't rule out an appeal.

"However, we have an obligation to stand up for the constitutional rights of separate school divisions, so we are giving serious consideration to an appeal," he wrote.

A statement by Public Schools of Saskatchewan released Friday said the ruling brings clarity to public funding for the education of non-minority-faith children in separate denominational schools.

"Saskatchewan Public Schools will continue to review the opinion and work with the minister of education and Saskatchewan separate schools on next steps," it said.

(CKRM, CKOM)

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