10/25/2017 14:43 EDT | Updated 10/27/2017 14:28 EDT

Alberta IDEA Petition Calls For Referendum On Abolishing Catholic Schools

It's calling for one public system that is respectful of diversity.

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The Calgary Catholic School District head office is pictured. A new petition is calling for a referendum on Alberta's public school systems.

A new petition is calling for a referendum on Alberta public schools, arguing that its Catholic school system is "obsolete, unnecessary, (and) expensive."

It says the province has two fully funded school systems: "a public and inclusive system for almost everyone and a separate and exclusive system for Roman Catholics."

The posed referendum question reads: "Do you support a single fully funded school system in which all children, regardless of their parents' religious affiliation, can be educated together in an inclusive atmosphere that is respectful of diversity and in which religious education and observances are permitted subject to law?"

'All kinds of ways' money could be better spent

The petition is part of the IDEA: Inclusive Diverse Education for All campaign, started by former Alberta education minister David King.

"It's objectionable to me that there's an education institution that will accept some students as a matter of right, and (the other will) accept students at its sole discretion," King told HuffPost Canada in an interview.

King said that having two school systems fragments communities and wastes resources, especially older ones that are struggling to keep schools from two different boards from closing.

We need more classroom teachers, we need more specialized counsellors, we need more teacher-librarians, there are all kinds of ways in which we could better use that money.David King, former Alberta education minister

"Wouldn't it be smarter to close one of those schools, put the students in with the students of the other school, which is now more fully utilized, relieve the stress on the community, achieve these economies of scale, (and) put the money into better programming, more staff, more resources for the education of the kids?"

He said Alberta spends $60-million annually on separate school administration, which could be spent on students.

"We need more classroom teachers, we need more specialized counsellors, we need more teacher-librarians, there are all kinds of ways in which we could better use that money," King said.

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Rachel Notley, Alberta's premier, speaks during the 2017 CERAWeek Conference.

The petition comes on the heels of Premier Rachel Notley's announcement that Alberta Catholic schools won't be allowed to teach their own separate curriculum on sex education.

"We will not use public dollars to have sexual health programs that deny science, that deny evidence, and that deny human rights," she said.

At the centre of the debate is the topic of consent, which Catholic school board superintendents argue is only one factor to consider when it comes to sex among married partners.

"Consent is the law in Alberta and under no circumstances will any child in Alberta be taught that they have to somehow accept illegal behaviour in a sexual relationship. The end," Notley said.

Notley reiterated that parents still have the right to pull their children from sex education classes if they so choose.

Similar work in other provinces

In Ontario, a similar push calls for one public school system for each official language (English and French).

And in Saskatchewan, the One System Sask campaign is calling for a single secular school system that will "reduce wasteful duplication of services and put education tax dollars in classrooms where it matters for students."

About half of Canada's 13 provinces and territories do not have publicly funded Catholic schools. Those include Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba, British Columbia and Nunavut.

With files from The Canadian Press

This story has been updated David King's comments.

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