Ministry appointing administrator for 3 Sask. private Christian schools in wake of Saskatoon abuse allegations
Schools now subject to an unscheduled visit once a month: Ministry of Education
Saskatchewan's minister of education says he will appoint an administrator for three independent schools in the province.
The action comes in the wake of abuse allegations from students of a private Christian school in Saskatoon.
Former students of the Christian Centre Academy, now called Legacy Christian Academy (LCA), launched a class action lawsuit earlier this week, alleging years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse by staff and leadership at the school and adjacent church.
- CBC InvestigatesExorcisms, violent discipline and other abuse alleged by former students of private Sask. Christian school
On Thursday morning, Education Minister Dustin Duncan spoke on CBC's The Morning Edition, his first public interview on the topic since CBC Saskatchewan broke the story. He told host Stefani Langenegger that cabinet has approved giving him increased authority over independent schools.
He also said he will be appointing a private administrator for three schools: Legacy Christian Academy, Grace Christian School in Saskatoon and Regent Academy in Prince Albert. All were notified Thursday morning, he added.
"The [former] regulations did not allow for me to step in and, for instance, appoint an administrator or a trustee," Duncan said. "Those three schools will now be receiving, on top of an administrator … they will be subject to 10 unscheduled visits by the ministry."
According to Duncan, the administrator will be appointed for these three schools because they all currently employ someone named in the recent lawsuit by former students.
When asked by Langenegger whether the people involved in the lawsuit yet still teaching will return to the classroom this fall, the minister said he and the administrator will be able to terminate staff.
Duncan said he was not aware whether any staff involved in the lawsuit has been terminated this week.
The three schools will be subject to an unscheduled visit once per month, and the province will be increasing the number of unscheduled supervised visits to all independent schools in the upcoming school year.
"Until now, independent schools were not required to notify the minister when they became aware that they were subject to a criminal allegation, or a criminal investigation had been opened on either a school or an individual working at the school," Duncan said.
"The regulations that were put in place in 2012 enhanced the regulatory oversight that didn't exist prior to 2012. I'm acknowledging that there are gaps and we have fixed those gaps and that is now in place."
As of Thursday, all qualified independent schools in the province must notify the Ministry of Education within 24 hours if they face allegations of criminal activity or a criminal charge affects a staff member, according to a news release.
Duncan also now has the ability to put schools on probation.
"These allegations "are extremely troubling," he said in the CBC interview. "We want and I want every student in this province to feel safe in the classroom."
Officials identified in class action suit
The ministry received a copy of the class action lawsuit on Tuesday, Duncan said.
The document includes names of nearly two dozen officials with the former Saskatoon Christian Centre Church and the Christian Centre Academy, now LCA, while others not yet named are also implicated in the lawsuit.
Caitlin Erickson, who attended Christian Centre Academy school and church for 13 years until 2005, shared with CBC a June 20 email exchange with Duncan's assistant.
She emailed Duncan to say she "reached out to your office a number of times and received no response," identifying herself as a former student of the private school, and informed him of the criminal investigation underway.
The minister's assistant wrote back "on behalf of Minister Duncan" and acknowledged receipt of Erickson's email.
Duncan acknowledged on Thursday that his ministry had received a letter from a student in June, indicating that there was a police investigation and listing a series of complaints regarding the private school.
In a written statement in July to CBC, an official with the Education Ministry said "the most recent inspection of Legacy Christian Academy (LCA) occurred on June 8" and that the ministry "has not received any complaints regarding LCA since funding for Qualified Independent Schools (QIS) began in 2012."
In a separate email to CBC in August, the ministry said no complaints had been registered with the ministry against LCA since the private school started receiving funding from the province, and no "irregularities" had been found during routine inspections.
Duncan said most of the allegations seem to be "historical in nature," while the ministry did not regulate independent schools "to any great extent" before 2012.
Since that year, qualified independent schools that meet provincial criteria and regulations have been receiving provincial funding, according to the ministry's news release.
Students say they were repeatedly assaulted
The CBC's investigation currently includes stories of abuse allegedly happening between the mid-1990s and the early 2010s.
Former student Garrison Davis, for example, said he was repeatedly paddled as late as the spring of 2012, and said it was common to hear of similar assaults on other students at that time.
Duncan said the ministry has been visiting each independent school in the province at a minimum of three times a year over the last 10 years. He said that during that time no complaints have been filed with the ministry about Legacy Christian Academy or any other independent schools.
Based on those inspections over the last decade, he is not concerned about the safety of the current students at LCA, Duncan said during a Thursday morning news conference.
"[The schools] have cleared all of those regulatory checks and balances that are put in place," he said.
"If there are concerns that have taken place since 2012 — that have not been captured by the oversight that we provide as a ministry — we certainly encourage people to contact the ministry or contact, in the event of a teacher being involved, the the Professional Teachers Regulatory Board."
Minister doing 'bare minimum': former student
Stefanie Hutchinson, who attended the school from 1993 to 2006 and is part of the lawsuit, says she was hoping for a different response from the minister.
"It's very unfortunate that he is clearly doing the bare minimum," she said.
"The people who have the authority to stop funding the school and actually investigate for the sake of other kids who are still going to the school … are saying that they're just going to sit on their hands."
Because the school has close political ties to the government, Hutchinson says, she doesn't trust that oversight will be truly independent.
With files from The Morning Edition, Jason Warick, Jessie Anton and Bonnie Allen