'Shocking' allegations against Christian school show need for regulation, says graduate

A graduate of a recently-shuttered Christian home-schooling organization says government needs to introduce stronger legislation to protect students.

‘I don’t understand how that makes it different from your kids just not going to school’

Bari Miller, a graduate of Wisdom Home Schooling, pictured with her partner Micahl Contos. (Eleventen Studios, supplied by Bari Miller)

A graduate of a recently-shuttered Christian home-schooling organization says government needs to introduce stronger legislation to protect students.

Bari Miller took classes at home from Grades 2 to 12 with Wisdom Home Schooling, a third-party affiliate with a Cold Lake Christian private school called Trinity.

Like all home-school parents across Alberta are required to do, her parents registered with a school board, created a lesson plan for her and had that plan assessed by licensed teachers.

What she didn't know at the time was that the supervisory organization her parents had chosen, Wisdom Home Schooling, was not registered with or accredited by the provincial government.

Diploma questions

It was not until she started applying to post-secondary schools that she realized the transcripts she earned through Wisdom were not recognized by the universities she wanted to attend.

"To me, it was a meaningless, worthless piece of paper," Miller said.

She described how disappointed she was when her application to the University of Calgary was denied. She had fresh questions about the instruction she had received at home.

"It was combined with a lot of biblical analysis and I really didn't learn any science that would be acceptable to a lot of Canadian universities," she said. "I was told that evolution didn't happen, and just a lot of things that I think didn't prepare me for the real world or for university."

Pupil precedents

The province shuttered Wisdom Home Schooling this week over alleged financial irregularities. Wisdom denies the allegations, and says the financial system wherein the registered Trinity Christian School allegedly transferred millions in public funds to Wisdom — an organization with which the government claims it had no legal relationship — was "neither illegal nor deceptive."

Alberta Education said it will provide the findings of its financial review to the Canada Revenue Agency and to the RCMP so those agencies can determine if further investigation is warranted.

The government's concerns are not only related to finances, however. In a letter to Trinity's board chair Tuesday, Alberta Education said the decision was made because Trinity "has failed to appropriately supervise its home education program." In a statement Tuesday, Wisdom also denied this claim, pointing out that Trinity has been in operation for 21 years and was established by government mandate in 1997.

While critics re-opened the debate of whether public funds should be used for private education, the province's own precedent on home-schooling may make it difficult to discern whether claims of wrongdoing could be justified.

Freedom and oversight

Prior to September 2016, department records show there were five supervising school authorities that used a third-party contractor to deliver home-schooling — the same model questioned by Alberta Education in its recent decision.

There are also no rules about what children are taught at home, even with regular supervision. Alberta's Home Education Regulation stipulates only that parents develop an education program, and that the supervising school authority accept that program.

The regulation does not require that a home-schooling program developed by a parent follow provincial education standards, or include information that would prepare students to write provincial or standardized exams.

School-awarded diploma marks and/or transcripts with grades are the main tools universities say they use to evaluate admission.

A spokesperson with Alberta Education described the prerequisites. "In order to obtain a final mark on an Alberta transcript for a course that has a diploma exam, a home education student must write the diploma exam and have a school-awarded mark submitted by the supervising school/authority," wrote Jeremy Nolais.

"In courses that do not have a diploma exam, a student's transcript will show a school-awarded mark submitted by the supervising school/authority."

A question of authority

He went on to explain that Wisdom Home Schooling did not have such authority. Wisdom refutes that claim, saying in a statement "education has arbitrarily determined that the work of WISDOM is not the work of Trinity. All allegations are based upon this false assumption." 

Roughly 2,000 people have signed a petition asking the government to allow Wisdom to continue to operate. 

Bari Miller, on the other hand, said her own negative experiences in the system suggest something needs to change.

"It's frustrating. Why should something that is not accredited exist? I don't understand how that makes it any different from your kids just not going to school," she said.

Miller took introductory courses at college and was eventually admitted to the University of Calgary. She is now doing her Master of Political Science at the University of Ottawa. 

"Home-school your kids, that's fine. But there has to be regulation in place so we can actually function in the world once we graduate."