The Alberta government has ordered a number of school divisions to remove "public" from their names, and while the education minister says it "changes nothing," others are concerned about the future of public schools.

In a ministerial order effective Sept. 1, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange changed the names of multiple public school divisions:

  • St. Albert School Division
  • Red Deer School Division
  • Fort McMurray School Division
  • Elk Island School Division
  • Medicine Hat School Division
  • Grande Yellowhead School Division
  • Buffalo Trail School Division
  • Aspen View School Division

In a statement posted to her Facebook page, LaGrange said public divisions can continue to use their current branding.

An Edmonton Public Schools spokesperson told CTV News Edmonton it will continue to use that name, and it will only have to change its name on legal documents.

LaGrange explained the UCP standardized names to create "a level playing field." Before the Education Act, there were distinctions and different abilities between school divisions. As of Sept. 1, those distinctions have been removed.

"Before the new Education Act, regional divisions required ward and trustee representation from each of the initial entities that formed the regional division when regionalization occurred 25 years ago," LaGrange said. "The changes we have brought forward by proclaiming the Education Act provides all school boards with this flexibility, and eliminates the red tape that was associated with regional division electoral boundaries."

'Fear monger' and 'conspiracy theories'

Former education minister Thomas Lukaszuk suspects the ministerial order is more than just a name change.

"The minister says 'There's nothing to it, don't read into it.' Then why do it?” Lukaszuk said. "If you're going to shift funding and you're going to try and bring equilibrium between private and public, the first thing you have to do is get rid of the distinction.”

The minister said there is no ulterior motive for removing the "public" from school division names, and appeared to go after Lukaszuk in her statement.

"In fact, one former education minister, who has now taken to publicly criticizing the change, personally pushed the very Education Act that proposed to do just this," LaGrange said.

However, the Red Deer Public Schools and Public School Boards' Association of Alberta is also concerned about the ministerial order.

"While government has said we are able to continue using public within our branding, there are concerns about what this could mean for the future of public school education," a Red Deer Public Schools spokesperson told CTV News Edmonton in a statement.

"We want to be on equal footing and this ministerial order would indicate otherwise," said Cathy Hogg, the Public School Boards' Association of Alberta president. The association also said it does not feel public boards are getting treated fairly by the Kenney government—a sentiment echoed by at least two other board presidents.

LaGrange said the backlash is based on "fear mongering" and conspiracy theories, and promised the UCP "will continue to protect public education in Alberta."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Timm Bruch