Alberta private Christian school can re-open, judge rules

A private Christian school in Cold Lake shut down by the province last week can continue operating until January, a judge ruled Friday.

Students will continue to have a school until at least Jan. 5

Education Minster David Eggen at an Oct. 25 news conference announcing Alberta Education was shutting down Trinity Christian School Association and its affiliate, Wisdom Home Schooling Society.

A judge says an Alberta private school and home-schooling agency that was shut down by the province over allegations of misspending can continue operating temporarily, but without government money.

The decision that affects about 3,500 home-schooled students came after a Court of Queen's Bench hearing in Grande Prairie.

Trinity Christian School Association and the Wisdom Home Schooling Society want a judge to reverse a move by the NDP government last month that pulled their funding and accreditation.

Justice E.J. Simpson said his decision Friday will protect both students and taxpayers, pending the outcome of a hearing set for Jan. 5.

Jay Cameron, a Calgary lawyer who represented Trinity and Wisdom in court, said he is pleased with the ruling.

"It ensures that the parents and the students, who have been tremendously disrupted by this ill-considered decision, will continue to have a school to go to, until Jan. 5 at the least," he said outside of court.

Eggen defends move to close

Education Minister David Eggen said it is important to note that Friday's ruling was not a final determination on the merits of the case.

"We stand behind the actions that we have taken to date based on the evidence made public in the audit," Eggen said in a release.

"Our priority, as always, is our students and ensuring that every public dollar is spent to ensure they are getting a
high-quality education."

Trinity and Wisdom oversee about one-third of all home-schooled students in Alberta.

The province pulled $5 million per year in funding after a report cited public money being used for lavish parties, alcohol, gift cards, funeral expenses and babysitting.

Trinity Christian School in Cold Lake, Alta., has been shut down by Alberta Education. (www.trinitychristian.ca)

The report said the senior ranks of both Trinity and Wisdom were essentially made up of two families. It said those families, whose names were not made public, received $2.8 million in compensation over the last three years. Wisdom and Trinity deny the allegations.

Trinity posted a short message on its website saying the school is open again.

"Trinity looks forward to seeing our students again on Monday morning," the statement said.

When it moved to strip Trinity of its registration and accreditation, Alberta Education said Trinity "has failed to appropriately supervise its home education program" and "has failed to demonstrate accountability for funding received from the government of Alberta."

Trinity, Wisdom fought back against closure

An audit found that public funding from Trinity Christian School Association was directed to Wisdom Home Schooling Society, even though Wisdom had "no relationship" with Alberta Education.

Trinity received more than $5.6 million in Alberta Education funding for the current school year. In 2014-15, Wisdom spent $5.2 million, or 90 per cent, of all the home-education grant funding that had gone to Trinity.

In its application for a judicial review, Trinity, Wisdom and two pairs of school parents sought a declaration that Eggen's decision to cancel Trinity's accreditation, registration and funding was "unreasonable, violates the principles of natural justice, is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or is otherwise invalid."

They sought an interim injunction to prevent the defunding and registration of Trinity, and a mandatory injunction requiring the province to reinstate funding and accreditation to Trinity and Wisdom pending a determination of the plaintiffs' rights.

With files from Dave Howell/CBC