A Prince Albert Christian school is one of three schools placed under a soon to be appointed administrator for the 2022-2023 school year.
The province announced amendments to The Registered Independent Schools Regulations on Thursday designed to increase the accountability of Qualified Independent Schools. The move allows the government to appoint a supervisor to oversee the education of students at Regent Academy in Prince Albert along with Legacy Christian Academy and Grace Christian School, both located in Saskatoon.
Education Minister Dustin Duncan said the changes were approved on Wednesday. He expects to appoint the administrator in the coming days.
“Over the course of the last number of weeks we have identified that while Independent School regulations have improved since 2012, there are some gaps that we have been able to identify,” Duncan said in a Thursday press conference.
All three schools currently employ someone who was named in the recent lawsuit by former students of Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon.
Regent Academy’s principal, Duff Friesen, is a former principal and teacher of Legacy Christian Academy. Regent Academy received more than $170,000 in government funding in the 2020-21 fiscal year. The Daily Herald reached out to Regent Academy for comment but did not hear back by press time.
In addition to the provincial administrator, Regent Academy will also be subject to 10 unannounced inspections this coming school year.
“Should additional information come forward, or depending on the outcome of the police investigation that has been made public, (and) further action is required I will be taking further action,” Duncan told reporters.
The amendments that came into effect as of today also require all Qualified Independent Schools to notify the Ministry of Education within 24 hours if there are allegations of criminal activity or a criminal charge of a staff member.
Duncan said that he would not consider closing the schools so close to the start of the 2022-23 school year.
“The administrator will be in place,” he said. “In the event that there are other issues that come to light, or in the event that there are criminal charges and prosecutions and convictions, then obviously, all options are available, but at this point the school will open.”
Duncan said the province decided to take the step after a statement of claim was launched by former students of Legacy Christian on Tuesday.
“Up until now certainly, there have been allegations that have been made public,” he said. “But as of Tuesday, there were no names attached to those allegations until the Statement of Claim was filed. We received a copy of that statement of claim … that actually not only identifies the schools or church but also named individuals,” Duncan said.
The Ministry sent the Statement of Claim with the names to the Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Body (SPTRB) to ensure that the regulatory body has the names of any licensed teachers that were named in the suit. From that point the regulatory body would take over.
Duncan would not speak to specific allegations that are before the courts. He considers them of a historic nature.
“At this time it seems for the most part to be (events from) prior to 2012 when they did become regulated,” Duncan said.
“Certainly they are troubling allegations that have been raised by the former students. I’m not a teacher, I have never been a school board trustee, but I am a parent to three kids and two of them are in the school system now.
“What I want for my children is what I want for every student in this province as the Education Minister, so the allegations are very troubling.”
The ministry also has the ability to suspend or cancel an independent school’s certification if necessary. Upon cancellation, the school would legally no longer be able to operate.
The administrator who will be appointed to oversee the three schools must hold a Master of Education degree, hold a valid Professional A Teacher’s Certificate and have a minimum of two years of school administration experience.
Prior to these changes, all Qualified Independent Schools were visited and monitored closely by the Ministry of Education, with teachers being supervised on site a minimum of three times a year. Teachers are also required to submit course outlines, individual lesson plans and yearly plans.
In 2012, the province began providing funding to Qualified Independent Schools who meet the standards and criteria outlined in provincial regulations.
Regent Academy is a member of the Saskatchewan Association of Independent Church Schools (SAICS). As of January 2019, SAICS has eight member schools, all of which use an individualized, multi-grade system of learning. These include Regent, Elevation Academy in Prince Albert, Almond Tree Christian Academy in Canora, Grace Christian School in Saskatoon, Legacy Christian Academy in Saskatoon, LifeWay Christian Academy in Saskatoon, Morning Star Christian Academy in Regina, Prairie Christian Academy in Saskatoon and Northeast Christian Academy in Melfort.
“Regent Academy is a partnership between parents and the faculty,” the school’s website reads. “In order for the students to thrive without distraction, we emphasize good communication between teachers and parents, mutual respect, and skillful conflict resolution.
“Our goal is to develop the next generation of leaders so that a Christian legacy can be firmly established for future generations.”
The school’s website includes an anti-bullying policy which says Regent “does not tolerate negative actions that may cause emotional, psychological, and/or physical harm.”
NDP calls for funding freeze for Legacy Christian
Official Opposition NDP Education Critic and MLA for Saskatoon Eastview Matt Love demanded a halt to Legacy Christian Academy funding until an investigation into the government’s handling of school abuse allegations has concluded.
“This government’s first priority should be ensuring the safety of our children,” Love said in a press release. “To neither shut off the tap to Legacy Christian Academy, nor remove alleged abusers from positions of authority is an utter failure of leadership. Safety of our children is paramount – there’s no room for half-measures and passing the buck.”
Love dismissed Duncan’s comments that most of the allegations are “historical in nature”. He said some allegations occurred as recently as 2019, well after government funding and oversight began in 2012.
The NDP explained that Duncan suggested that most of the allegations are “historical in nature,” before government funding and oversight began in 2012.
“Either Duncan’s feigning ignorance, or the system of unscheduled school inspections – which he’s really hanging his hat on – clearly hasn’t and won’t work,” Love said during a press conference in Saskatoon.
“The NDP is standing is listening and is standing in solidarity with those making the allegations. I want to commend the bravery and the courage that it takes to step forward and share those experiences. It’s just incredible to watch.”
Love said the government knew of the allegations since at least June and didn’t do anything until there was public pressure. Love also demanded an investigation into Legacy Christian and the government’s mishandling of the abuse allegations.
“These acts have no place in Saskatchewan schools,” he added. “It’s been nine days since these allegations went public and today was the first we heard from the minister.”
Love said the NDP would have immediately frozen funding pending the investigation from police.
“We feel the right thing to do in the short term would be to freeze funding to ensure that there is accountability for the institutional failures that this church and school have been carrying on for decades,” he added.